STRUGGLING Inverclyde parents owe more than £17,000 in unpaid school meals bills - prompting calls for the council to wipe the slate clean.

An investigation by Green MSP Ross Greer has revealed that £1.1 million is owed to Scottish local authorities by mums, dads and carers across the country.

Mr Greer is now urging all local authorities to write-off the debt - a move backed by Gourock councillor Chris McEleny, leader of the SNP group on the council.

Locally, the school dinner debt stands at £17,200.

Mr Greer, who represents the west of Scotland, said: "The reality is that much of this £1.1m is never going to be paid back, because families simply cannot afford it.

"If it is serious about closing the attainment gap between our richest and poorest pupils, the Scottish Government should follow the example of Finland by providing all school-age children with access to a free, nutritious breakfast and lunch, including during school holidays. "The first step towards that would be having councils writing off this frankly astonishing and growing debt."

Mr McEleny is an advocate for universal free school meals to help tackle poverty and played a key role in the council's extension of free school meals for children in primary four last year.

He said: "It should be an inalienable right for a child to get food. "As we work towards universal free school meal entitlement for all primary school children then of course cancelling any historic debt that's been built up should be a consideration."

Local authority officials say they are doing all they can to support disadvantaged young people and their families.

A spokesperson said: "Inverclyde Council is doing its utmost to tackle child poverty. "There are few things which are a higher priority for us. "We always provide a school meal for pupils. "Last year we introduced a £211,000 package to support families on low incomes. "That package included raising the earnings limit for families who are eligible for free school meals. "That move meant that an extra 230 families could get free school meals. "All primary children in P1 to P3 across Scotland already get free school meals. "Last year we independently extended that in Inverclyde to cover all our P4 pupils as well.

"Inverclyde Council has also been working hard to secure a data sharing agreement with the DWP and Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs so that we can automatically provide free school meals to families that are eligible, without them having to apply for them.

"In addition to these pro-active and forward looking policies, we also have a series of measures in place to support families who need help with paying for their school meals. "These include sign posting parents to any benefits they should be getting but aren't and we have a debt management policy in place as well."