11/08/2020 11:23 BST

First Week Of Eat Out To Help Out Cost Almost As Much As Summer Free School Meals Programme

The government may have already spent £105.4m, compared to £120m for six-week scheme for children.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak places an Eat Out to Help Out sticker in the window of a business during a visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

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The government may have spent up to £105.4m covering the cost of meals in the first week of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

More than 10m meals were eaten in restaurants using the programme which gives diners 50% off their food, up to £10 per person, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August.

If someone ate in a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, the government could have to pay out £90 a week for them.

By contrast, the government’s free school meals programme for children gives parents £90 to cover the entire six-week summer holiday.

Nearly 1.3m children are eligible for the Covid Summer Food Fund, which was introduced following a campaign by Manchester United and England football star Marcus Rashford

Extending the free school meals scheme into the summer holidays, which the government initially opposed, cost an extra £120m in additional funding.

The Treasury has put aside £500m to pay for Eat Out to Help Out.

The Treasury said on Tuesday it had received claims for 10,540,394 individual meals from restaurants up and down the country. More than 83,000 restaurants have signed up.

If two people eat out together, that counts as two individual meals in the statistics.

It means that a maximum £105,403,940 may have been claimed in the first week.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said the programme meant not only were customers getting a “great deal” they were “supporting the almost two million people employed in this sector”.

“These amazing figures show that our plan for jobs is delivering,” he added.

The government hopes Eat Out to Help Out will help prevent the hospitality industry, and the jobs that come with it, from being devastated by the impact of the pandemic.

But when it was announced it was revealed the most senior civil servant at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had raised concerns.

Jim Harra, HMRC’s permanent secretary, wrote to Sunak requesting a ministerial direction – a formal order to go ahead with a scheme.

He warned there were “particular value for money risks” with the programme.

The Treasury said ministerial directions were “a normal part of business” when “managing public money rules for one reason or another can’t be met”.