A row sparked by council budget proposals to charge primary schools to cover the cost of children bringing in sandwiches continues to roll on.
It began when Plaid Cymru councillor, and South Wales East AM, Lindsay Whittle claimed there was a real possibility that parents could be left to pick up the cost – dubbed the “sandwich tax”.
The story provoked a huge backlash on social media from worried parents and was even picked up by the national press.
The ruling Labour group angrily denied the claims and said Plaid were making political capital off the back of children’s education.
Cllr Rhianon Passmore, Labour’s Cabinet Member for Education and Assembly candidate for Islwyn, said there was no proposal to charge pupils to eat sandwiches in schools.
She said: “This nonsense is disingenuous and misleading at best. Sadly such claims will undoubtedly cause extra worry and stress for hard-pressed parents and their children. This is wrong.
“It is concerning that a regional list Assembly Member has decided to make such futile claims at this time off the back of our own school children.”
Council Leader Keith Reynolds described the claim as a “deliberate misrepresentation of the facts”.
He said: “There is no proposal from Caerphilly Council to charge parents for their children to eat sandwiches for lunch at Caerphilly’s schools. In fact, at a time of ever-deeper Tory Westminster cuts to councils’ budgets, our Labour-led council is set to invest an extra £1.9 million in our county borough’s schools.”
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Interim Chief Executive Chris Burns took the rare step of intervening in a political row.
He said: “There is not and never has been any intention to impose a charge on parents for their children taking sandwiches to school.
“Indeed, it is a fundamental right of parents to determine their child’s meal options, and we simply couldn’t and wouldn’t ask parents to pay a financial contribution for such a thing.”
He added: “We are very concerned that some parents may be worried by what they have read, and would like to reiterate that it simply is not the case.”
However, Plaid Cymru have insisted they were right to bring up the issue.
Cllr Colin Mann, Plaid Cymru group leader, said: “Let’s be perfectly clear. The Labour council wants to charge 75 schools for those children who bring in sandwiches. That’s a tax in my book.
“I know as a school governor that schools are extremely hard-pressed financially at present and a lot of long-serving teachers are being invited and encouraged to apply for voluntary early retirement or risk compulsory redundancy. So, by imposing this charge the Labour council will make things even more difficult for our schools.”
The charge is set to save £102,000 from the council’s 2016/17 budget.
If schools do not pay the charge, catering staff will have their hours cut to achieve the saving.
A council report, approved by Cabinet on February 17, also suggests that schools unwilling to pay the charge could use their own dinner supervisors to set-up table places for pupils with sandwiches.
The council’s budget for 2016/17 will now be presented at a meeting of full council on Wednesday, February 24.