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Education / Frustration simmers again at community council over delays on going ‘cashless’ at Anderson

Photo: Shetland News

THE CHAIRMAN of Lerwick Community Council says it is “disgraceful” that a cashless payment system has not yet been introduced at the Anderson High School.

Jim Anderson said he raised the matter at a recent meeting of the school’s parent council and claimed there was “no support there at all” for pushing forward on a solution.

The issue has been bubbling away for a number of months, with worries that there is extra stigma on pupils receiving free school meals because they are given a card while other children use cash.

Shetland Islands Council has previously stressed its commitment to introduce a new system to enable cashless catering.

However, the procurement of a new system would be undertaken by a service outside of the council, and this process has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Team leader of cleaning and catering Neil Beattie said on Tuesday that local authority procurement body Scotland Excel expects implementation of an active tender around April/May.

At a meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday evening Averil Simpson asked for an update on the issue.

Anderson reiterated that schools across Shetland use the cashless ParentPay system, where meals are pre-paid for, but the Anderson is unique in that it uses cash in the canteen.

But he said there was no movement from the council on going cashless any time soon.

“There’s no willingness for them to do anything about it in the short term or as an interim measure,” Anderson claimed.

He said the message from the council was that a new system could be in place by the middle of August once the procurement process is finalised.

Both he and Simpson said it was “very poor” that after months there was no solution yet in place.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison previously highlighted that the procurement of payment systems is being undertaken by Scotland Excel for councils across Scotland.

This has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but she reiterated the aim to have a working system in place for the start of the next school year.

Sandison previously said that pupils receiving free school meals “rarely need to show the card as the catering staff get to know them very quickly”.

It is thought that ParentPay, which is said to have a significant administrative process, would struggle to work logistically in the Anderson due to its large size. The council previously said it was also looking into the idea of using YoungScot cards to receive free school meals.

Both Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart and Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant have pressed the council on the issue in recent months.

Grant requested figures from Shetland Islands Council which showed at in November there were 67 children at the Anderson High School who claim free school meals, “but the number of children claiming a meal varies between 30 and 37 per day”.