Goverenment, both central and local, are in a big muddle over school crossing patrols. Central government claimed that local authorities would be able to make the required savings without loosing ‘front line services’ and Eric Pickles is still sticking to that line saying ‘It just goes to show that cutting front line jobs and hitting front line services isn’t inevitable– it doesn’t have to be an option at all.’
There are 93 school crossing patrol sites in Suffolk of which 62 are currently in operation and these are used by an estimated 8,000 children daily. Each crossing patrol officer is paid £6.38 per hour for 7.2 hours a week. The annual cost to the council is £174,000. Suffolk County council is about to decide the fate of these patrols and many if not all will go. So much for front line services not being hit.
In order to find out where these crossing patrols are sited I made a Freedom of Information request asking for the information. The response was patchy and much of the information which would be required for a proper assessment was missing. They promised to collect the missing information by the end of January but have not responded to my request for them to publicise it where I can download it when it is available. I have converted the patrol sites information that they did give me into a Google map from which one can easily jump to Streetview images like this one in Ipswich where the streetview car just happened to capture the crossing patrol officers as they were completing their shift.
St Edmundsbury District Council has voted to pay for the crossing patrols in their area, Ipswich Borough Council refuses to take on an services that SCC dumps At one school a head teacher was manning one crossing herself and a local estate agent has offered to sponsor another. Crossing patrol officers in Lowestoft have collected over 6,000 signatures against the cuts.
Will ‘Big Society’ help us us out with this one? Personally I am fully in support of people doing more for themselves and believe that information technology can help people do just that, however… not all jobs can or should be done by volunteers. There are big problems with used volunteers to do school crossing patrols as the authorities are now finding out to their cost.
Can the job be done by volunteers? Well, no, or possibly or.. not sure….. According to a newspaper article crossing patrol officers needs to be employed by the council or the police authority as it is only these organisations that have the right to stop traffic. The SCC web site is however less clear on the matter, saying “it may be possible for a school or another authority to take on a volunteer to perform the duties of a patrol. However, currently the Law is very strict on how a patrol must operate and a school or another authority would need to fulfil all the supervisory responsibilities”.
The above newspaper article also reports that the new conservative MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, has taken up the regulations with the Department of Transport and he is hoping to have a meeting with junior minister Mike Penning will allow the change.
The portfolio holder for transport for Suffolk says he hopes that the MP is successful. I can understand why, because in the mean time a crossing patrol officer has been injured in Lowestoft. The officer suffered cuts to the head and shock and a driver has been reported to the Crown Prosecution Service for careless driving. The crossing patrol, across the Yarmouth Road (A12) is one of those that will potentially go. A 6yo child was killed at the same crossing in 2007.
In summary it is a mess and both front line services and children will be at risk. A huge amounts of time is being spent trying to invent a new operational and management model against looming cuts.
Do we really want the school heads (who are paid a lot more than £6.38 per hour) operating the patrol or worrying if the supervision is adequate. Who will deal with the situation when a volunteer crossing patrol officer isn’t able to to come in to work? Will it up to the school to sort out a replacement or the estate agency who sponsor’s the patrol or another volunteer? So much for ‘no loss of front line services’.