‘The bottom line is that it’s parents responsibility to get children to the school gates’ - Norfolk school crossing patrols controversy continues
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Parents need to shoulder responsibility of making sure their children get to school safely, according to the chairman of the committee which will next year decide whether almost 40 lollipop patrols should be axed.
Thirty-eight patrols out of the county's 96 road crossing patrols are under threat through Norfolk County Council proposals to cut funding by about £150,000 a year.
The council currently spends £270,000 on those patrols, but says it is not sustainable to keep providing that many - a move which has sparked controversy and protests from parents who say their lollipop patrols are crucial to keep children safe.
The council says it has used national guidelines and monitoring on numbers of vehicles and children crossing to decide which patrols should continue to be provided and which should be consulted on for withdrawal.
And, at a meeting this week, Roger Smith, the chairman of the children's services committee at County Hall, defended the move to consider getting rid of patrols which did not meet thresholds laid down by national guidelines.
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David Ramsbotham, UKIP councillor for Melton Constable, whose division includes Astley Primary School - one of those where the crossing patrol is at risk, said to Mr Smith: 'Many parents in Norfolk are angry and dismayed that the wellbeing and the lives of their children are being put at risk by the withdrawal of school crossing patrols across the county.
'Do you agree that a child's life is worth a lot more than £150,000 and will you do all he can to retain this service in its entirety by persuading this council to divert the necessary finance from other sources – for example from the Parish Partnership Scheme?'
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Mr Smith said he was 'acutely aware' of the controversy the proposal had created. Of the consultation he said: 'We have received 228 responses to date via our consultation website, Of those responses we have only had comments about 19 of the 38 patrols. I would say some are very marginal as if they should be retained.
'Others, quite frankly, when you look at the figures,,. in one case the inspector had to wait five minutes for a single car to pass and there was only a handful of children crossing.
'There's a case to be looked at. We're very tight for money, but it is within the power of the children's services committee to look at this proposal and to make a decision.
'I think in one or two cases perhaps the facts needed to be reviewed, so if there are facts to be reviewed we want to receive them.
'So, it's all open. We've got to make effective use of our money. It's a non-statutory service and the bottom line is that it's parents' responsibility to get children to the school gates.'
People can have their say on the consultation until January 8. It can be found here.
What a parent says
Josie Phillips is involved in the campaign to keep the road crossing patrol at Colman Junior School in Norwich, which her daughter attends.
The lollipop lady there helps children from three schools - Colman Infant School, Colman Junior School and The Clare School, which is a specialist complex needs school
While the patroller press buttons on pelican crossings - which meant the council did not initially assess the site - campaigners argue that the lollipop lady is vital on busy Colman Road - part of Norwich's ring road.
Mrs Phillips said: 'The council is not statutorily responsible, but I think there must be exceptions to the rule, or they wouldn't provide road crossings at all.
'I think they need to look at every individual crossing.
'One of my daughter's classmates was knocked over at Colman Road leaving an after school club when the lollipop lady was not on duty. It is so dangerous, the way traffic uses that junction. You get coaches which straddle the crossing and the children aren't sure whether they should cross.
'The lollipop lady gives the children reassurance. She tells them that it is safe to cross. And without her I know there are parents who would not let their children walk to school on their own.
'That will take away their independence and will just mean more people end up driving to and from school.
'It's not enough to just have the pelican crossing on a road which is that busy, because of the nature of that crossing.
'You have ambulances which quite often go down Colman Road and you can see the children aren't sure what to do. The lollipop lady always keeps them safe and lets them know when they can cross.
'She goes above and beyond in a very difficult location.'
What the council says
Axing patrols has to be considered because Norfolk County Council needs to save millions of pounds, the authority says.
The council says it is not a statutory duty of local authorities to provide road crossing patrols.
Of the 96 patrols which the council does provide, 38 are at risk, with the council saying they do not meet national safety thresholds which mean patrols should be retained.
Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee, said: 'Children's safety is one of my committee's greatest concerns – but so is making sure every penny of our budget is spent to achieve the greatest results for Norfolk's children and their families.
'Providing school road crossing patrols is not a statutory duty for local authorities, as getting children to school safely is the responsibility of their parents and carers.
'But because we want to help and support parents and carers in that, a recent member working party looked at all 96 crossing patrols currently run by Norfolk County Council.
'This recommended that we should continue to fund the 58 patrols where there are combination of factors that lead to the patrol site reaching the national safety threshold for a patrol to be retained.
'It is for 38 others that don't meet the national safety threshold, and which we know to be in areas with apparently good safety records, that the committee has started a consultation to hear from affected parties about a proposal to cease them from the end of next March.
'We are keen to hear the views of the public on this matter before the consultation closes on January 8 ready for consideration at the children's services committee meeting on January 24.'