UK Politics

Union fighting to save 'lollipop ladies' from cuts

School crossing patrol
Image caption Councils are not under any legal obligation to provide school crossing patrols

The UK's largest public sector union is launching a campaign to save lollipop men and women who it says are facing the axe as part of spending cuts.

A number of councils in England have put forward plans to withdraw funding, with some suggesting schools or volunteers could take over.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said they were making "dangerous decisions" and urged the government to step in.

Ministers say it is up to local authorities to manage their own roads.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, local authorities have a general duty to promote road safety.

The legislation gives them the power to appoint school crossing patrols - but crucially, does not impose any legal obligation upon them to do so.

'False economy'

Writing on the Labourlist website, Mr Prentis said the scale of the cuts being made to crossing patrols was "deeply distressing".

"There can be no doubt that lollipop ladies and men save lives, so why are councils making these dangerous decisions?" he wrote.

"Sadly, crossing staff are not required by law, so they are a soft target for councils - hit by some of the biggest budget cuts in living memory - to make savings on. We say this is a false economy - average pay is just £3,000 a year - a drop in the ocean for councils."

Conservative-led Dorset County Council wants to cut 65 patrols - which it says would save £200,000. It wants town and parish councils, schools and community groups to find their own funding or to organise a volunteer service instead.

Suffolk County Council, which is Conservative-led, has proposed axing all of its crossing patrols - although it now says it will take more time to consider the move after a public outcry.

Unison said 67 out of 91 lollipop jobs were also threatened in South Tyneside, and 31 out of 103 in Stockport - and cited a survey which suggested that overall, more than a quarter of councils were making cuts to patrols.

Mr Prentis said using volunteers was not a viable alternative and they would still need to be equipped, trained and supervised, meaning even the small savings that councils hoped to make would fail to materialise.

"Using volunteers as patrollers downgrades the responsibility of this skilled and potentially dangerous role," he added.

'Can do councils'

During a debate on the issue in the House of Commons in March, Liberal Democrat Transport Minister Norman Baker ruled out introducing new legislation to require councils to provide crossing patrols.

"We believe that local authorities are best placed to decide the priorities for their local areas and the best way to improve road safety in those areas," he said, adding that as councils were democratically elected, local people would be able to make their feelings about any specific decisions known at the ballot box.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said "can do" councils were finding ways to save money and protect frontline services by eliminating waste, sharing back office functions and reducing the size of senior salaries.

But he said it was up to councils to decide how to allocate money and manage road safety, and central government could not get involved in those decisions.

Mr Prentis accused the government of "grossly underestimating the scale of the problem" and said ministers must take action to protect children.

Unison is urging anyone with concerns about cuts in their area to get in touch.

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