SCHOOL dinner prices for Hampshire students are due to go up, with Brexit and 'unpredictable weather' blamed for the increase.
Today (May 8) Hampshire County Council's head of children's services, Councillor Keith Mans, is set to approve a rise of 10p for hot school meals for September this year, making them the most expensive in the county at £2.40.
This is more than the current cost for school meals in Southampton - £2.10 - as well as Portsmouth, which is £2.05 but due to go up to £2.10 this autumn.
Reasons for the added costs were explained in a county council report that stated: 'Further food inflationary pressures are also being forecast by the food industry arising from both unpredictable and unseasonable weather patterns globally and the UK leaving the European Union.
'HC3S [the caterer] is actively sourcing alternatives to single use plastic across its operations, which are often at higher cost and there may be additional cost pressure arising from the government’s proposals for a plastics packaging tax which are currently out for consultation.'
But it is recommended that schools will continue to charge £2.30 per meal for children under the government’s universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) grant.
Although the price of school dinners in Portsmouth are also due to increase this year, and every year until 2021 - when they will cost £2.25 - they are still cheaper than anywhere else in the county. Currently they cost £2.05.
For Portsmouth City Council's head of children's services, Councillor Rob Wood, this was important. 'In an area like Portsmouth where some families struggle it is quite important that they should be able to afford a good, warm meal for their children,' he said.
'It's proven that they learn better if they eat good meals. School dinners need to be as affordable as possible.'
School dinner prices for Portsmouth schools that use the council's caterers, ISS, have been frozen since 2014. Prices will go up in-line with a new contract between the council and company Caterlink.
All Portsmouth children in infant school are eligible for free school meals and children of any age are entitled to free school meals where their parents receive certain benefits including income support and universal credit.
Hampshire County Council added that the proposed price rise represents a 4.3 per cent increase, which is less than the increased hourly pay rate for catering assistants which is rising by 6.4 per cent.
The report said: 'With 90 per cent of the cost of producing a school meal being made up of catering staff and food, there are limited opportunities to reduce these costs further without jeopardising food quality and standards.'
Only schools that use councils' contracted caterers are subject to these increases.