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Battle of the dinner plate

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Social care costs, shrinking grants, business rates, potholes.

Some might think county councils had more than enough on their plates without gratuitously starting other fights.

But what finds its way onto the plates of Lancashire school children is the source of an incipient battle between county leader Geoff Driver (Con) and parts of the Muslim and Jewish communities.

His cabinet yesterday decided that halal meat - other than poultry - supplied to 27 schools by the council’s catering service must come from animals that have been stunned before slaughter, contrary to some religious views on how this must be carried out.

It’s safe to say that council cabinets rarely concern themselves with the working practices of abattoirs, though Lancashire’s had before it a 14-page officers’ report complete - rather unusually – with a lengthy exegesis of the Qu’ran’s views on the matter.

Cllr Driver has said that his support for pre-stunning is motivated solely by concern for animal welfare, though the Lancashire Council of Mosques suspects some other agenda is at work.

The rules on slaughter in the Qu’ran, and similar ones for kosher meat consumed by observant Jews, are perhaps best left to those who understand them.

But for people who take these religious rules seriously they matter a great deal, which is why a point that will seem trivial to many could tie Lancashire up in costly judicial reviews and damage to community relations.

Cllr Driver’s concern with un-stunned animal slaughter is of long standing. The BBC reported in November 2012 that Lancashire had engaged a meat supplier not considered halal by Muslims, while the Jewish Chronicle last December reported that he showed “a dismissive attitude” to Jewish leaders.

It may be that Cllr Driver has a genuine concern with animal welfare, plenty of people do including those with no ill-will towards the religious groups involved.

But with councils being continually urged foster better community cohesion and good relations between faith groups, angering two major world religions seems a curious way to go about this.

Cllr Driver has been leader since 2017 and previously held the post from 2009-13. Earlier in his career he was on the other side of the fence as chief executive of Preston City Council.

He is steeped in local government experience and leads a county already facing serious financial trouble from a lack of reserves.

It’s a strange time to pick an unprovoked battle.





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