A RADICAL overhaul of school dinners across Wirral would axe around 60 catering staff and see meal prices rise by more than 15pc.

Falling pupil numbers mean many kitchens are overstaffed and officers say they can no longer afford to keep so many posts. They hope cuts will help make up some of last year's £300,000 budget deficit.

Letters have already been sent to kitchen workers asking them to consider early retirement. But it is too early to say if any catering staff would be made redundant.

Unions said yesterday they did not want to see any compulsory redundancies in the sector.

A spokesperson for the union said: "In line with our policies, we would not want to see any redundancies among catering staff."

Member of the Education and Cultural Services Select Committee, Cllr Oliver Adam, said: "The fall in school rolls means we cannot support the staff we have had in the past.

"We hope to be able to make the cuts through voluntary retirement schemes and a large number of kitchen staff have already expressed an interest in this. We will also be looking at redeployment."

"Wirral has had much cheaper school meals than other boroughs on Merseyside and the price rise will bring us into line with them. The money comes out of the education budget, but would be better spent on other aspects of education. A price rise will also ensure we provide quality food with a high nutritional value."

In a report to go before cabinet on Thursday, Director of Education and Cultural Services Howard Cooper said the aim was to have the new system in place by September. This would see the cost of meals rise from £1.20 to £1.40 next year.

He said: "The intention is to reduce staffing costs in a stepped process.

"It is anticipated that a combination of staffing review and an increase in paid meal charges will reduce the deficit, against a background of falling school numbers."

But parents have said a price hike may make them think twice about paying out for school dinners.

Mother of three Pauline Ashburn, 46, whose daughter Heather,10, attends Raeburn Primary School in Bromborough, said: "I think any rise could get quite expensive over the year and it would be much cheaper just to give children a packed lunch. My daughter pays £1.20 at the moment and I would certainly rethink it if the price rise was significant."