LOCAL, loyal Tories are whispering that their MPs and their Government are on the wrong side of the half term free school meals debate.

A sure sign of the public mood was Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, himself a Conservative, rapidly responding and giving £15,000 to the Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation to enable its work delivering free meals to continue. Hartlepool and Middlesbrough are in the top 11 areas of the country for children eligible for free school meals – just over 30 per cent – so this work is vital and the need is real.

It is great that all over our region so many individuals and businesses are stepping in, but because this is now a charitable initiative, we have to hope that no child gets overlooked. However, the Government did give out vouchers at Easter and over the summer so it had in place a process of ensuring those eligible for help actually got it. Now councils, charities, businesses and good neighbours are trying to reinvent it.

Such is politics, the Government cannot back down over half-term without losing face, but it will be amazing if we go into the pandemic-stricken Christmas holidays with the Government still refusing to assist the most needy youngsters.