LIKE many of us, both locally and nationally, it was with growing horror that I realised a week or so ago that our Conservative Government was not opting to follow renewed pleas from footballer Marcus Rashford MBE and others to extend free school meals to disadvantaged children over the half-term holiday.

And I was equally horrified, but not entirely surprised, to gather that our own Conservative MP, Rebecca Pow - shockingly and along with other Somerset MPs from that party - voted against the provision of free meals over the October half-term.

In stark contrast to the lack of direct meal provision on behalf of the Government, the response from our local community in and around Taunton has been outstanding as it 'stepped-up to fill the dinner-plates' in droves.

Cash donations poured in and generously topped £2,000 within days, while countless small cafes, pubs, chippies, sandwich shops, restaurants, caterers and the like in true 'Dunkirk spirit', all pledged to give, prepare and deliver food to where it was most needed.

And very much at the beating heart of all this was our Coronavirus Community Help Taunton (CCHT) - chaired by its founder member Natalie Dyson, ably assisted by many other hard-working volunteers - spearheading both the very prompt initial appeal and subsequent highly efficient action. Bravo!

READ MORE: Rebecca Pow explains her vote on free school meals
READ MORE: Free school meals: How Somerset MPs voted on extending the scheme
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But then, set against this gargantuan local effort, came last week's PR-blighted media response from Ms Pow where she merely reels-off a list of the funding awarded by the Government to local authorities - not inconsiderable, but in many cases already sorely depleted by other emergency Covid measures - including the £125,000 given to Somerset County Council to mitigate child food poverty.

However, on closer inspection, SCC's present efforts, while clearly in existence, are disproportionately dependent on the voluntary efforts of the food-banks and CCHT, as cited above, and given that the Covid crisis is still very much ongoing, could be seen to be a touch too little and too late.

Surely we could reasonably have expected our county council to have foreseen this situation and made better, far more direct and easily accessible provision?

And what now? Let's hope that as we all stare into the jaws of another national Covid lockdown, towards what may be a very strange Christmas, the Government will take heed of the half-term debacle and ensure the poorest of our children and families don't go hungry in December and January, often our coldest months.