Knives out for Rishi Sunak in school meals row: Treasury insists Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ‘never even asked’ for funding to extend free school meals as blame game erupts amid demands for a U-turn
- Rishi Sunak locked in blame game with Gavin Williamson over free school meals
- Allies of Mr Sunak dismissed claims the Chancellor blocked extension of scheme
- They said Mr Williamson had not asked for extra cash to fund meals over holidays
- Furious row came amid growing calls for the Government to U-turn on the issue
Rishi Sunak and Gavin Williamson are locked in a bitter blame game over the Government’s refusal to extend the free school meals programme as Treasury sources claimed the Education Secretary had not asked for extra funding.
It was reported over the weekend that the Treasury had blocked the £20 million per week needed to roll out the scheme to cover future school holidays.
But the suggestion that Mr Sunak was guilty of ‘parking the Treasury bus’ has prompted a furious response from the Chancellor’s allies who suspect Mr Williamson’s supporters may have briefed the story.
Allies of Mr Sunak said it was impossible for the Treasury to have blocked the funding as they claimed Mr Williamson had not put in a bid for the cash to be made available.
The Government remains under intense pressure to U-turn on the issue and to extend free school meals to cover the holidays as a campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford continues to gather pace.
Rishi Sunak and Gavin Williamson are locked in a furious blame game over the Government’s refusal to extend the free school meals programme to cover holidays
Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading yesterday, has refused to bow to demands from campaigners to extend the programme
The Government remains under intense pressure to U-turn on the issue as a campaign led by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford continues to gather pace
Mr Sunak agreed with Mr Williamson earlier this year that extra cash should be made available to fund free school meals over the Easter holidays.
That commitment was then extended to cover the summer holidays but the Chancellor, Education Secretary and Prime Minister Boris Johnson then agreed that the extra funding would not continue beyond that point.
However, campaigners are adamant the scheme must be extended as many families face financial struggles due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Reports on Sunday suggested that the Treasury had blocked the further extension of free school meals, prompting anger among Mr Sunak’s allies.
Sources said there was no request from the Education Secretary for the money to provide meals for 1.4million disadvantaged pupils during future breaks.
One ally of Mr Sunak said: ‘It cannot be Treasury-blocking as there’s nothing to block. The Department for Education never sent in a spending proposal.’
Another source told The Guardian: ‘There was nothing proposed or mentioned from the Department for Education.’
Another ally told the Financial Times there had been ‘no new proposal from the Department for Education about releasing cash for this half-term’.
They said they suspected allies of Mr Williamson had briefed the story, labelling the alleged move ‘pathetic’, adding that ‘if Gavin has changed his mind then he should have put in a spending proposal on it’.
Mr Williamson’s team did not respond to requests for comment last night.
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi today dismissed the claims of Mr Sunak and Mr Williamson being at war over the issue.
He told Sky News ‘I don’t think there is a battle’ and added: ‘I think you are quoting the Education Secretary and speculating on stuff that I don’t recognise.
‘There is absolute lockstep between the Chancellor and the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister and this Government to make sure we target funding to those families that need it.’
Asked if he believed that Mr Rashford and other campaigners should stay out of politics, Mr Zahawi replied: ‘No, they shouldn’t and I am going to give her a fourth name check, Carol Shanahan is the chairman of Port Vale football club and is a force of nature, she is a brilliant superstar in what she has done for her community, as has Marcus Rashford.
‘Marcus Rashford is doing an incredible job at highlighting some of the issues around this.
‘They are complex and what I do appreciate more than anything else that Marcus Rashford has done is he has said look, let’s take politics out of it, let’s stop the finger pointing and attacking people over this, let’s work together so we deliver the best outcomes for the most needy families.’
The Prime Minister insisted yesterday the Government would not allow children to go hungry but he refused to bow to demands to extend free school meals.
Mr Johnson highlighted the money already given to councils and said Universal Credit was ‘one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time’.
Universal Credit had been increased by £20 a week while £63 million was announced in June by ministers to help local authorities feed vulnerable families – although officials expect that money to have largely been spent already.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it. The debate is how do you deal with it.’