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Free milk U-turn ‘is policy on the hoof’

Downing Street was accused of making policy “on the hoof” last night after coalition plans to scrap free school milk were abruptly dropped.

Number 10 stamped on the controversial idea, despite Health Minister Anne Milton insisting the provision for under-fives was “outdated”, “ineffective”, and too expensive.

In her leaked letter to the Scottish Public Health Minister, Ms Milton revealed she was “writing similarly” to Stormont Social Development Minister Alex Attwood and Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, as Northern Ireland had “a similar scheme to Nursery Milk” in Great Britain.

But yesterday’s Tory U-turn means ministers here can bin the letter without concern.

The volte-face happened just hours after the proposal emerged publicly and so quickly that universities minister David Willetts was left floundering in a television interview as he was informed the position had changed.

The Nursery Milk scheme allows children under five in approved day care to receive 189ml (1/3 pint) of milk free of charge each day.

It dates back to 1940, when milk was issued to pregnant women and young children to protect them against wartime food shortages.

But in a leaked letter to the Scottish government, Ms Milton said the cost had almost doubled in the last five years to some £50m and there was “no evidence that it improves the health of very young children”.

Ironically, the Tory minister warned in her missive that abolishing the scheme across the UK by next April would be fiercely opposed by the media, parents, nurseries, childminders and the dairy sector, “particularly as this will affect some children in low-income families”.

Labour leadership contender Ed Balls said: “This is a coalition in chaos, making policy on the hoof.”

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