COUNCIL bosses are working on plans for a city-wide campaign to raise funds so that proper, free school meals can be provided to every primary school child in the city’s most deprived areas.

Claire Douglas, the council’s new Labour leader, said the authority would contribute £100k to get the fund started.

But she said that she hoped that businesses, organisations and even individuals across the city would contribute.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring people together to do something positive for the city, for people who really need it,” she said.

She said the benefits of ensuring that every child from a poorer background had at least one proper meal a day were huge.

“The educational benefits are absolutely beyond doubt,” she said. “For a child to be able to sit in class all day and be able to learn, they need to be well-fed.”

The benefits would last right through into adulthood, she added.

Cllr Douglas said she and her colleagues had already had talks with a number of organisations and businesses in the city about donating to the fund, and had had a ‘really positive’ response.

But it would need to be a city wide effort, she said: providing a free school meal for every child was not something that any council could afford to do on its own.

She said that money which came in as a result of the campaign would be put into a fund which would be administered by a local charity with experience in fund management and disbursement.

Providing a free school meal for every primary school child in York was one of Labour’s key election promises – though Cllr Douglas tempered that by saying the scheme would initially be targeted at schools in the most deprived areas of the city.

She said she aimed to launch the campaign in September, and run it through to Christmas – with the first free school meals being delivered in January, or possibly even earlier.

The idea is to start with schools in the Westfield area of York – though precisely which schools come first will depend on whether they have the kitchen capacity to cook so many meals.

Former York primary school headteacher Verna Campbell said that in principle, the idea of providing a free school meal for every primary school child was a good one.

A proper meal would help children learn and concentrate better, she said.

And there would be other benefits too.

“It would mean all the children sitting down together, instead of all just having their own packed lunch,” she said.

But Mrs Campbell, who chairs the education committee of York Civic Trust, warned that while she welcomed the idea of a York school meals fund in principle, in practice there would be difficulties.

Not every school had the kitchen facilities to cook on such a large scale, she pointed out.

And there would be some children from wealthier backgrounds who did not really need a free meal, she said.

Nevertheless, she said, it was a good idea. “Good on them (the council) for coming up with it.”