THE LEADER of Basingstoke's Labour party has called on the town's MP to resign.

Cllr Andy McCormick has called Maria Miller's position "indefensible" after he claims that she did not bring concerns over free school meals to the attention of the Prime Minister.

But the MP defended her actions, saying: "My response is the same for everyone and that doesn't change depending on whether it is an email from a councillor or a resident."

It comes after The Gazette reported how Mrs Miller had sent an email to a Labour council candidate defending the government's decision to not fund free school meals, just a day before a U-turn announcing that they would over the Christmas break.

Cllr McCormick told The Gazette that he had asked Basingstoke's MP to consider her position after receiving a "word-for-word identical" response to others constituents over queries regarding free school meal provision during school holidays.

He also wrote to Mrs Miller to ask her to "attempt to persuade the government to change its course of action", but says that "you appear to have made no attempt [to do so]".

Cllr McCormick added in a follow-up email to the Conservative MP: "I therefore have no choice other than to ask you to consider your position: Basingstoke needs people prepared to stand up for its residents, not see 2,500 of them starve.

"Such attitudes are reminiscent of the Irish potato famines of the 1840s and belong in the 19th century, not the 21st."

He told this newspaper: "This would have been the most important issue that has faced residents this year.

"It is not the first time this has happened, we went through this last time as well.

"I think her position is indefensible. She won't step down as MP, there are worse MPs.

"I think it is pretty poor how she didn't lift a finger to help [people who rely on free school meals]."

He says there are roughly 2,500 people in the Basingstoke constituency that rely on free school meals.

Boris Johnson announced earlier this month that free school meals would be provided to those entitled to them over the Christmas break, despite refusing to do so over October half term.

It came as part of a £400 million pledge of spending on supporting poor children and their families over the winter period.

But Maria Miller said that she had spoken to the PM about free school meals, asking him to encourage more councils across the country to following the lead of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Hampshire County Council.

She told The Gazette: "I have spoken to the Prime Minister about the issue of Free School Meals to ask him to encourage more Councils around the country to follow Hampshire County Council and Basinsgtoke Borough Council to use the expertise and experience of local organisations to help support families during this Pandemic, in term time as well as school holidays.

"An extra  £2.9million has been given to Hampshire County Council to provide further support to local residents in need over the Christmas period. Plans for how this additional funding will be used are being developed. I want to see further support for local Basingstoke Community organisations who have the expertise and knowledge to effectively work with local families in term time and in school holiday."

She added that her response "doesn't change depending on whether it is an email from a councillor or a resident, adding: "Hampshire County Council has ensured the same money as would have been spent on Free School Meals in the November half term has been made available to local organisations, who work directly with vulnerable families, to provide the support that is needed on the ground.

"People working in Basingstoke Borough Council, Hampshire County Council, Basingstoke Voluntary Services, the Foodbank and a host of other local organisations have done outstanding work to support children and families and individuals throughout this Pandemic.

"They have ensured that, including in the school holidays, families have had the expert support and advice they need. 

"‘Free School Meals’ is only one type of support for vulnerable families, for part of the year. The approach taken by Hampshire County Council, and also by Basingstoke Borough Council through their Community Grants to local organisations of £200 000, recognises that tackling food inequality is a complex issue. Channeling support through expert local organisations means money gets to where it is needed most to support vulnerable families in the community.  

"If anyone needs extra support they can call the Hampshire Helpline on 0333 370 4000. The helpline is open 7 days a week from 9-5pm and refers requests for help to our Basingstoke network of emergency hubs."