Hertfordshire County Council appears to have dismissed calls for them to step in and provide free school meals for children during the holidays.

The council has come under pressure from opposition councillors in the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups to "follow the lead" of other councils to provide meals for eligible schoolchildren outside of term time up until Easter 2021, after the government blocked a motion by the national Labour party, following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

A senior Conservative county councillor acknowledged last night it is a "difficult time" for families and says she and her colleagues "understand the strength of feeling" around the issue of holiday hunger.

But there was no suggestion from Councillor Teresa Heritage, deputy leader at the Conservative controlled county council and cabinet member for children, young people and families, that the council will be stepping in to provide free school meals for the 18,263 eligible children in Hertfordshire during the holidays.

Cllr Heritage said: "We remain committed to supporting families at this difficult time and want to reassure all our residents that help is at hand for those who need it right now.

"We work closely with families across the county and support several schemes and initiatives providing additional extra help, including financial support, food and provision of other household supplies to families in need."

Watford Observer:

England footballer Rashford ahs led a campaign calling on the government to provide meals to eligible children during the school holidays. Credit: PA

In the statement, Cllr Heritage explained the council has provided £120,000 in funding for foodbanks, while grants have also been offered to families facing financial difficulties.

She added: "We understand the strength of feeling around the issue of holiday hunger in our communities, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on many families across the county.

"Ultimately, no child in Hertfordshire should be going hungry and we are working hard to ensure this doesn’t happen.

"If you need help, please contact HertsHelp at www.hertshelp.net, email info@hertshelp.net or call 0300 123 4044."

Watford Observer:

County Hall, Hertford

The main opposition at the the county council - the Liberal Democrats - have piled on the pressure by calling for an extraordinary council meeting to discuss the issue - the first time such a meeting has been called in ten years, while Councillor Mark Watkin, spokesperson for education and families, has written the cabinet member for education Cllr Terry Douris.

Leader of the Hertfordshire Lib Dems, Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst, said: "We do not take this step lightly. I hope that the Conservatives will act now and not wait until the meeting, but if not we will force a debate to vote that the county should step in ( to provide school meals).

"Frankly it's a disgrace that in this day and age children from the least well off in our society, through no fault of their own, and many with unemployed parents due to the pandemic, could go hungry during school holidays.

"The council may have missed the boat for this half term but there are other school holidays coming up and it must act now."

Watford Observer:

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst, leader of the Hertfordshire Lib Dems

Quentin Baker, chief legal officer at the county council, said: "I have received a request from five local county councillors for an extraordinary council meeting to consider the provision of free school meals during school holidays.

"The chairman is considering the request and it is anticipated a date for a meeting will be announced shortly."

Labour has also written to the county council.

In a letter to Cllr Douris, North Watford councillor Asif Khan said: "We call on Hertfordshire County Council to match the pledges of the councils across England and continue to provide free meals to families from low-income backgrounds over the holiday period, including Christmas and to then extend this at least until the Easter school holiday."

He added it is "not good enough" to send children into the holiday period "hoping for the best, while knowing that many will simply go hungry".

Meanwhile, Cllr Steve Cox, a Labour councillor in South Oxhey, has written to the South West Hertfordshire Tory MP Gagan Mohindra regarding his decision to vote against Labour's motion.

And in Hertsmere, the Labour and Lib Dem parties have called for an extraordinary meeting, similar to the call to the county council, to take place at Hertsmere Borough Council.