School milk subsidy to stay, says Lord Bach

The national subsidy for school milk will be retained, junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach announced on Friday 13 January.

Lord Bach said: “Along with my colleagues from the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health I have considered all relevant factors including the recommendations in the recent report. We have agreed that the scheme has a valuable role to play and should remain unchanged. “

The EU subsidy on school milk was reduced in 2000. Since 1st January 2001 the UK government has provided national aid to supplement the EU subsidy. The government provides an annual maximum of £1.5m in England, funded jointly by DEFRA, Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health. 

It had been feared that following a report by economic consultants London Economics that the subsidy would be withdrawn.

The report concluded that the funds were an inefficient use of public money.

This money, it said, would be better directed at a promotional campaign to improve awareness amongst children of the nutritional benefits of milk.

James Withers, communications director at NFU Scotland welcomed the announcement, but asked Labour to fulfil its promise made in 1997 of free school milk for children in Scotland.

“Common sense has won the day.  Of course it’s important that the scheme is efficient, but for NFUS this was always about far more than the £1.5 million budget.  It was about the government’s commitment to its own health campaigns.  

“I am pleased that the health and education departments weighed in on this issue, proving that talk of joined-up government is not always rhetoric.  I suspect the embarassment factor of ‘milk snatcher’ headlines and the significant and immediate backlash from the industry was the reason we’ve just had one of the shortest government reviews I can think of.

“The fact is the school milk scheme works and is more important now than ever given the country’s woeful health record.  However, I don’t think this should be considered the end of the whole issue.  The take-up of the scheme across Scotland remains patchy. 

“When labour came to power, they pledged to re-introduce free school milk to all schools.  Nine years later and we’re still waiting for that commitment to be fully honoured.”