A DECISION to hike the cost of school meals may have driven parents to start providing lunch boxes for their children, councillors have admitted.

A report presented to the council cabinet noted that a decision in 2017 to increase the daily price of a primary school lunch had contributed to achieving less savings than they’d hoped, due to fewer taking up the hot meals on offer.

The £436,000 in savings achieved during 2018/19 was over £85,000 short of the £521,450 budgeted for by officers, which has been partially blamed on parents choosing other alternatives.

However, a failure to secure necessary savings from raising a fee for the childcare element of the free breakfast scheme has also been blamed for the shortfall.

Until September 2017, the daily cost of a school lunch was £2.30, but a decision was made to raise this to £2.50 for a two course meal.

The report noted that the two factors, contributing to a slippage of £85,450, had become “subjects of concern” with the cabinet member for finance “eager” to receive a response plan by the next relevant Cabinet meeting.

It went on to say: “In regards to the scheme to raise the price of primary school meals from £2.30 to £2.50 , the numbers that order dinners have decreased since the price increase in September 2017, and therefore the expected savings have not been realised.”

The education portfolio holder, Cllr Cemlyn Williams, said at the meeting: “What’s happened here is the number of those taking up the school lunches has reduced.

“I’m a firm believer in being mindful of unintended consequences, and to a degree that’s happened here.

“In my view, the message in future is that we ensure that any savings we identify do not end up having the opposite effect.”

Council leader Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn admitted that it was an example of an initiative “that had not turned out as they hoped.”

Despite this, of the £2,454,74 in earmarked efficiency savings for 2018/19, 73% have already been realised with a further 4% on track to be realised on time.

He added: “This goes to shows how difficult it it for the council to meet all the savings objectives that are throwin in front of us on an annual basis.

“We depend on these efficiency savings to save having to cut services but while 77% of all savings have or have almost been achieved, it also shows the difficulties we face.

“We are really being squeezed hard and it’s getting harder and harder to achieve the savings required.”