Parents of youngsters at schools in Helston and on the Lizard are facing a five per cent increase in the cost of school meals. Cornwall Council is considering a 10p-per-meal price rise, effective from the start of the September term later this year.

At the same time, many schools are worried that a dramatic increase in the number of infants who will soon be getting a free lunch will test catering facilities to breaking point.

The plan to give every infant in the country a free, hot meal at lunchtime was the main announcement from deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at his party’s annual conference last year.

The original estimated cost, last September, was put at £635million. Mr Clegg said it would save an average family £400 per year.

But now it is not clear if the government will find the money for a hot lunchtime meal. Recent ministerial statements have spoken of only a “healthy” meal instead – in line with the previous government policy, which had claimed that a well-designed pre-packed cold lunch could meet required nutritional standards. Also, many school canteens, particularly where catering services have been outsourced to national companies, no longer have the facilities to handle hot food. This has led some councils to worry if they should raid capital budgets to upgrade facilities, or even contemplate using money from the “Pupil Premium,” which is supposed to be targeted specifically at those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to the Liberal Democrat blog, Lib Dem Voice, more than a quarter of Liberal Democrat party members think Mr Clegg has got his priorities wrong – 27 per cent said the initiative reflected poor judgement, while 60 per cent backed the deputy Prime Minister. The remaining 13 per cent either didn’t know or had no opinion.

The government is now planning to spend £2.30 per meal to finance free lunches for infants. Cornwall Council said there would be no charge to parents for infants’ lunches. Its survey of school canteens, to determine how they might be able to provide hot food, is due to report later this month.

Most school dinners in Cornwall are provided by the national contractor Chartwell’s. September’s rise will be the first price increase for three years, taking the cost to parents to £2.35. Cornwall Council pays a subsidy of approximately 60 pence per meal.