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19 June 2012 | Adam Leach
The UK government could save £44 million a year by establishing a single contract to buy milk given to under fives in childcare, according to the Department of Health.
The department has launched a consultation on four different policy options for the Nursery Milk Scheme, including capping the price and setting up an e-voucher initiative. Under the scheme, 1.5 million children in some form of childcare are given a third of a pint of milk for free each day.
Anne Milton, public health minister, said in a statement: “The current scheme has not changed operationally since it began and costs have ballooned. In four years, they have jumped from £37 million in 2007 to a staggering £53 million in 2011.”
The impact assessment on the scheme concludes that leaving the policy unchanged will result in a cost of £713.16 million over the next 10 years. Calculating the benefits of running a single contract for the direct supply of milk, the department estimated it would cost £363.53 million. The calculation included costs of £830,000 to run the scheme.
Under the e-voucher idea, childcare providers would inform the local authority how many children covered by the scheme are under their care and receive a voucher or payment card credited with the money for them to buy the milk. Under this scheme, the government would work with suppliers and retailers to get them to sign up. This would save £273.84 million over the 10-year period, it is estimated. The idea would also offer further incentive to buy efficiently as any savings accrued on the cards could be used to buy more milk for the children.
The final option included in the consultation is to set a maximum price that can be claimed for buying pints of milk. Setting the cap at 35p per pint would deliver savings of £408.62 million, while setting it at 50p per pint would deliver savings of £295.1 million.
But Labour’s shadow health minister Diane Abbot was unhappy with the proposals. “Trying to cut the cost of this scheme may end up snatching milk away from the country’s children,” she said.