A SENIOR councillor has urged education chiefs to step up to the plate on free school meals after a Scottish Government delay.

Alba's Chris McEleny says he would like to see the local authority become the first in Scotland to provide primary six and seven pupils with a free lunch.

The policy should have been introduced in August this year but the government has 'backtracked' on funding.

Campaigners say free school dinners would save local families hundreds of pounds a year in the fight against poverty and want the council to stump up.

Cllr McEleny wants the expansion to become part of the council's financial plans - and he says it will be key to securing support for the budget.

He said: "We have been making good progress in Inverclyde steadily increasing the number of primary schoolchildren that are entitled to free school meals.

“ Free school meals keep about £340 per child in a family's pocket, which would be a great financial difference to many.

"This then results in more money getting spent in our local economy.

“It’s bitterly disappointing that the government have backtracked on the promise to fund free school meals for all primary schoolchildren in Inverclyde.

"However, we previously realised that with the many issues we have in Inverclyde then we had to act ourselves - like we did previously by funding free school meals to all P1-P4 children.

"If the Scottish Government don’t put up the funding they promised then as a council we must make this a priority in our upcoming budget to make sure over 5,000 children in Inverclyde get the benefit of a free school meal."

During the election the SNP had pledged to introduce free school meals for all primary children this year.

But in their post-election budget they delayed the funding and would only promise it later in this parliament.

Council leader Stephen McCabe has promised to explore ways to fund the roll out following the delay from the government.

But he has warned that could come at a cost for other services, as the Municipal Buildings bosses face a reduction in their budget settlement for the next year.