Tory politician criticised for telling struggling parents to shop at M&S

A Marks and Spencer store

A Marks and Spencer store - Credit: PA

A Conservative council leader has been criticised for suggesting parents struggling to feed their children could go to Marks and Spencers.

Cllr Mike Bird, who heads Walsall Council, made the remarks after being asked about Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford’s campaign to get free meals to kids in the half-term and Christmas holidays.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “It doesn’t take a great deal of money to feed a child.

“This is a political football created by Marcus Rashford.

“He kicks it on the pitch and now the Labour Party are booting it around.

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“I’m sorry it’s not going to work with me.

“Marks and Spencer are supposed to be the most expensive for food but you can buy three meals for £7 there.”

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Some members of the public hearing the broadcast were critical of Cllr Bird’s remarks, also pointing out M&S had closed its Walsall town centre branch in recent years.

Labour MP Liam Byrne urged Bird to “reflect” on his words and consider the thousands of parents who may be struggling to feed their children over the school break.

Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and the party’s pick for next year’s West Midlands mayoral election, added: “Over 50,000 little children live in West Midlands constituencies where Tory MP’s voted against ending holiday hunger, including 13,500 in Walsall.

“For Cllr Bird to declare, ‘let them eat M&S’ really is to add insult to injury.

“I very much hope Mike takes a moment to reflect on the hurt he’s caused, and back Labour’s commitment to funding free school meals through the holiday periods.”

In a statement released by the council, Cllr Bird said his comments had “created controversy”, but added the issue had been turned into a political football, and he would “stand by that view point”.

He announced the council was commissioning an independently-led “short, sharp” appraisal of what local authority support was on offer for financially vulnerable residents.

MORE: Meals row shows politicians need lessons in real life

Cllr Bird said the review, which will also assess provision by the charity and voluntary sectors such as foodbanks, would aim to report back to cabinet in four weeks so the results could be “considered promptly”.

He added: “None of us are perfect, but my cabinet and I do have the best interests of all of our residents at the heart of our thinking and decision making.”

Cllr Bird said: “I have said throughout the last few days we are in a difficult financial position, like many others, and this position has been hugely impacted by the single largest public crisis since the Second World War, but we must focus our resources on where they are needed most.”

Meanwhile, M&S said it had supplied millions of meals for the vulnerable, through its own partnership food programme.

An M&S spokeswoman said: “Through our longstanding food redistribution partnership with Neighbourly, since March we have helped to put more than six million meals on the table for those who need it most by working with 1,500 local community groups.”

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