PARENTS of Reading children who are entitled to free school meals should be provided with food vouchers during lockdown, instead of food parcels.

That’s the message from councillor Ashley Pearce, Reading Borough Council’s lead member for education, who said parents “know best”.

The Labour councillor has spoken out after families across the country shared photographs of the meagre food parcels they have received.

The council was running a local food voucher scheme until October 2020, when the government began paying private companies to prepare food parcels for struggling families.

READ MORE: Struggling Reading families relying on Chartwells food parcels

Since then, some Reading families have been relying on weekly £15 food parcels from Chartwells UK, which has come under fire this week after a photograph of one of its substandard parcels was posted online by a disabled mother of two.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who said he was “absolutely disgusted” with that food parcel, has announced the voucher scheme will return from next week.

That means parents will be able to pick up £15 food vouchers from their child’s school.

Cllr Pearce said: “The voucher scheme is definitely something we want to see return.

“Parents are the ones who know best what their child eats and what they should be providing them with.

“The voucher system gives parents choice about what they buy and when they can buy it, so they are getting value for money and meeting their child’s needs.

“Lots of local shops were also open to the voucher scheme.”

He is also calling on Reading families who have been receiving food parcels to contact the council if they want to complain or provide any feedback.

The government has promised to carry out a review of the food parcel system and Mr Williamson said companies that have been providing substandard parcels will be “named and shamed”.

In a statement, Chartwells UK said it had “fallen short” because staff had to prepare parcels at “extremely short notice”.

The company added: “We’ve fully investigated our free school lunch food parcel provision during the past 24 hours.

READ MORE: Update on ambitious plans for Royal Berkshire Hospital upgrade

“We want to apologise again for any instance where food parcels have not met our high standards and whenever this has happened, we commit to refunding the costs.

“As quickly as possible we are contacting every school we work with to understand where any shortages may have occurred so we can address these issues.

“From Monday, January 18, we will ensure the lunches reflect the additional £3.50 funding allocation communicated by the government and that every penny goes into the provision of the food.”