By Joseph Willits
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In what has been a rather sensitive issue for the past 40 years, many will be relieved to hear the words "commitment" and "continuing", in response to a question about free milk for under 5-s. Health Minister Anne Milton reassured other MPs, responding to a question from Labour MP Nic Dakin, about the value of "free nursery milk in preparing young people for a good future and well-being in life".
The Mail on Sunday, used the headline: 'David Cameron the milk snatcher': Government plan to slash school milk budget', which quickly prompted comment from Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, with a reference to Thatcher:
"The Tories have form on this, from 'Thatcher the Milk Snatcher' to the botched attempt to make it an early victim of the spending cuts."
Sources close to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley offered a "cast iron guarantee" that free milk would stay, but a Department of Health spokesperson also said:
"We are looking at how the free nursery milk scheme can deliver better value for money, because we are very concerned about the escalating costs. One thing is clear, though, the scheme will continue and every child will receive free nursery milk."
Milton echoed the statement from the Department of Health yesterday in Parliament, saying that the Government recognised the "value of nursery milk". However Milton said it was "shocking … that the previous Government presided over a scheme whereby nursery milk is now costing double the retail price". This, she said, "urgently" needed to be assessed.
The system will be reviewed in the New Year, but the Government has stressed the importance of reforming the system due to waste. Figures suggest that £10m of the £50m spent on the scheme is wasted each year. Free school milk has, according to the Government, been costing nearly 3 times more than the average price of milk, at almost £1 a pint. Nurseries have been charged over the odds by "middlemen" agencies who buy cheaply from wholesalers, selling the milk at a premium. A legality in the system has forced the Government to reimburse the "middlemen".
Last year, Anne Milton made the headlines over free milk, after a leaked letter suggested the scheme was to be scrapped. The proposal was "highly controversial", she had written, but the scheme had "become increasingly outdated" and costly. David Cameron was said to have not liked the idea.