(Updated below) The new administration at Argyll and Bute Council has reacted swiftly to the widespread concern at the attempt to gag a young child whose interest in what she was given to eat at school highlighted worthwhile issues of child nutrition – and also raised money for charity, the Argyll-based, internationally operating childrens’ food aid charity, Mary’s Meals.
The council has issued what we can only describe as an exemplary manifesto which not only deals with this issue but appears to set an overall stance on some key issues of corporate culture.
The points it asserts are:
- ‘We will not allow censorship of anyone in Argyll & Bute. Everyone has a right to free speech, including our school pupils.
- ‘We will be holding a summit on school meals as early as we can involving everyone who has an interest.
- ‘We only want the best for our school pupils in every way, including their school meals.
- ‘Our school meals staff should not be attacked in the way they have been in the Scottish press because they can’t defend themselves.’
The council also informs us that they are meeting with Martha Payne’s parents next week to discuss how all of the above points can be accommodated.
They make it clear that they will continue to give support to our staff when they are subjected to criticism they can’t easily counter.
This is an open and wise position.
No one commenting on any stories on this subject here on For Argyll has criticised the Dinner Ladies – but we are aware that it has happened elsewhere.
Such staff obviously do the very best they can in the budgetary and operational circumstances they are given. They are not the decision takers and they have not been the agents of censorship.
Moreover, memory suggests that Dinner Ladies play a very important part in the lives of school children – the friendly ones and the days they delivered our favourite foods are embedded for life.
The absolute statement the council has issued in the first of the points it makes above would also seem to suggest the approach of a judiciously enlightened approach to the easing of the censorship on council employees, including teachers.
This is close to heady stuff, given the long experience under previous administrations in Argyll and Bute.
There seem to be contradictory messages emanating from the council.
The BBC national lunchtime news has just read out a pretty intransigent press statement – the describe it as ‘long and defensive, that the council is said to have issued.
This repeats the previous administartion’s slur on the child concerned in asserting that her blog distorted the school meals she was given. Martha;’s father has categorically refuted this implication.
BUT – BBC Scotland has just said (13.37) that Council Leader Roddy McCuish has issued a statement saying that he has instructed staff to lift the ban on Martha’s photography.
This is a wise and open decision – but how did the renegade press statement get out of the cage?
Support for Council Leader from Jamie McGrigor MSP
Council Leader, Roddy McCuish, said on World At One that he has instructed council staff immediately to life the band on Martha Payne taking photographs of her school dinners.
Following the Leader’s statement, Jamie McGrigor, Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP, has given his own reaction.
He says: ‘The Scottish Conservatives have welcomed Argyll and Bute Council’s decision to drop a ban on a nine-year-old girl photographing her school meals, then posting them on her blog. This is a welcome move to address what was excessive action.
‘I fully understand the local authority’s motivation to protect its staff after some unkind and misleading coverage, but this should not have impinged on the girl’s freedom of speech.’