BUSINESSES have been praised for giving up their time to help children get into reading.

Leading firms including Palmers Solicitors and Selex EC, along with Basildon Council and JobCentre Plus, signed up to the reading partnership scheme.

The project, which sees staff give an hour of their lunch break a week, was designed to improve the literacy skills of primary school pupils across the borough.

It has been backed by the Basildon excellence panel, set up to raise standards of education in the town.

The panel, chaired by former chief inspector of Ofsted Mike Tomlinson, aims to see all primary schools rated “good’’’ within the next three years.

Patrick White, who sits on the panel and runs Basildon Educational Services Trust, helps co-ordinate the scheme, alongside the council.

He said: “The impact the partners scheme has had on these young people, who may not get the chance to develop their reading skills elsewhere, is just phenomenal.

“Basildon schools need more volunteers like those from the businesses already involved.’’ Businesses were invited to a celebratory lunch as a reward for their hard work and dedication.

Speaking at the event, Kevin Blake, the council’s deputy leader, said: “The scheme has helped to strengthen the ties between the world of work and education and it is important to get more businesses involved.

“This event was aimed at recognising the efforts of those who are already involved, as well as drumming up more interest in the scheme.’’ Lara Murray, from Palmers Solicitors, based in Town Square, Basildon, has been volunteering with the scheme at Ghyllgrove School, in The Gore, Basildon, for two years.

She said: “If only more volunteers from local business would come forward, just think what a huge difference this would make across the borough.”

For more information on the project, email sam.terrell@