Councils Want Answers Over ‘Hijacking Of Soft Drinks Levy’

Councils are demanding money earmarked for boosting physical activity and healthy eating in schools is not used to plug a black hole in education funding.

Instead, the Government needs to find genuinely new money to pay for its recently announced school funding pledges.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is concerned that money due to be raised from the soft drinks levy is being used to shore up a shortfall in school budgets.

In February, the previous Government announced that the £415 million levy money would be invested in facilities to support sports, after-school activities and promoting healthy eating, as part of a healthy pupils capital programme.

But last week, the Department for Education announced that £315 million from this will now be diverted to addressing school funding shortages, leaving just £100 million to fund the original intentions of the levy.

Councils have long-called for a fairer funding system for all schools, but say that the levy needs to be protected.

Local government leaders, also with a responsibility for public health, said money being taken away from healthy initiatives to pay for it will be a setback for tackling obesity, and could “derail” the previous Government’s childhood obesity plan, in which the levy was a key part.

This follows cuts to councils’ public health budgets, which have already been reduced by £531 million over five years.

The LGA said it is “perverse and counterproductive” to shift funding for children around existing departmental budgets, and that the Government needs to find genuinely new money to pay for its new school funding commitments.

It also says councils should be given a key role in overseeing how schools spend the money raised by the levy.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“It is vital that the soft drinks levy, which marked a significant step in the fight against obesity, is protected.

“Government needs to find genuinely new money to meets its new school funding commitments. It is perverse and counterproductive to simply shift this money around, particularly at the expense of children’s health.

“We were supportive of the previous Government’s announcement of a soft drinks levy. But we now have grave concerns that the Government is hijacking this money to plug funding shortages elsewhere. It calls into question the original purpose of the levy.

“This also threatens to derail the childhood obesity plan, where the levy was a major theme.

“The Government needs to be clear about what this now means for the levy, and for reducing the worrying levels of child obesity in this country.

“Schemes that encourage physical activity, healthy eating and improve children’s mental and physical health, which the levy would have been used to pay for, cannot be seen as nice to do but fundamentally non-essential.”