The report provides members with updated information regarding delivery of the Winter Support Grant during Spring Term 2021, including the provision of Free School Meals (FSM) over the February half-term and Easter school holidays and the roll-out of the Holiday Activity Fund (HAF) at Easter.
The report provided updated information regarding delivery of the Winter Support Grant during Spring Term 2021, including the provision of Free School Meals (FSM) over the February half-term and Easter school holidays and the roll-out of the Holiday Activity Fund (HAF) at Easter. S Aviston, Head of School Organisation and Resources presented the report to the Committee with Councillor Renner-Thompson stating that the Council had been keen to use the voucher system following initial criticism of the quality of the food parcels in some neighbouring authorities and that the use of the HUGGG vouchers had been very successful within Northumberland. Some FSM funding had also been disseminated via local arrangements. Data was not yet available for the Summer half term as the vouchers, valued at £20 per pupil per week, were still live.
In response to a question regarding the uptake of the vouchers it was clarified that data had shown that Northumberland had the highest uptake in the Country of those using the voucher system however due to the way the system worked there was a lag in the data related to families moving between different benefits and there were other families whose circumstances had changed and they no longer required the vouchers. The Co-op IT systems had not been able to accept the HUGGG vouchers and therefore gift cards purchased by the Council had been provided to some families to allow them to access the support. Whilst schools had contact information for children and therefore the vouchers had been able to be provided directly to families, in some post 16 settings the vouchers had been provided directly to students and therefore it had been more of a challenge to get the same level of uptake, therefore different ways of providing funding were being looked at for these students in the future.
The holiday activities had been targeted to those receiving FSM, however they had been opened more widely but there was a challenge to manage the numbers accessing the activities. E Richardson, Senior Manager Specialist Services would be asked to provide more information to Councillor Ball on this. Information would also be requested from the Communities Together Hub on the breakdown of discretionary funding provided in respect of utility bills etc.
A campaign had been run to promote to encourage parents to apply for FSM and whilst numbers had increased, these had now plateaued. The promotion of FSM was also part of the standard consultation strategy in schools as FSM also brought in funding for the schools themselves. Work would continue to get the best uptake of FSM. Reconciliation of the Government grant was now taking place, but it was expected that this had been spent in full and no funding would be returned to the Government.
1. The content of the report and the successful implementation of the initiatives undertaken with the funding from the Winter Support Grant be noted.
2. The strategy, roll-out and benefits of the activities for children and young people organised through the Holiday Activity Fund across Northumberland during the Easter Holiday be noted.