The future of all Lancashire’s school crossing patrols is in doubt – as part of council plans to save another £1m.
County Hall bosses are proposing to remove all of the £1.5m it spends on lollipop men and women as it attempts to balance the books.
Originally, £500,000 had been pulled out of the funding for crossing patrols, with schools having to find half of the £4,000 annual cost.
But now the cash-strapped council has said it could remove all of the money available if budget proposals are approved this week.
The decision comes just days after it was revealed that the number of children killed or seriously injured on Lancashire’s roads had increased. Read the full story here
Today headteachers have raised fears over the changes to funding, saying they may force some schools to have to choose between crossing patrols and classroom staff.
David Fann, headteacher at Sherwood Primary School in Preston, said: “We are affected here at Sherwood because we are a school on a bad S-bend and we have two road crossing patrols.
“My understanding with the consultations was that we would have to help fund one and the other would be funded by county.
“The benefit of this could be that schools which haven’t got a crossing patrol would be able to fund their own.
“But there are some schools, especially where the budget is small, that the cost of a road crossing patrol could be balanced against staffing in the school and it’s going to be a very difficult decision to make.
“So if you are having to cut teachers’ hours or teaching assistants’ hours in the classroom and you’ve got a crossing patrol, there may be some decisions that governors and head teachers have to make.
“It’s going to be a very difficult decision because at some schools, like mine, we could not be without a crossing patrol officer, it would be a death wish.”
A £500,000 saving on what Lancashire County Council spends on crossing patrols was agreed at last year’s budget, but in December it was proposed that the council would save all of the £1.5m spent each year.
It had been suggested, following a consultation, that the schools’ forum would pick up the tab for the deficit, but it yesterday emerged that a legal issue made that impossible.
A further consultation now looks set to take place on how the extra £1m will be met, raising questions over the impact to schools.
Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said that while the consultation was taking place, £1m would be made available from reserves in case the council decided not to remove all the funding.
He said: “I’m aware that removing the funding was one of the things that went to the budget working group as part of the consultation, and I think members were under the impression that this money could be found through the schools’ forum.
“That’s certainly not the case and therefore they might well have come up with a different recommendation.
“The £500,000 that was agreed to be saved will go ahead, which means Lancashire County Council and the schools will share the cost.
“The proposal to take out all the funding from the county council, we will need to consult on again in light of the fact that it’s now clear the schools’ forum will not be in a position legally.”
The cuts to crossing patrol funding have been slammed as putting children’s lives in danger.
Coun Borrow said: “At a time when the county council is having to make really difficult decisions about how we help people with disabilities and making saving from the adult social care budget and we have got rising numbers children coming into care we need to look after, unfortunately we need to focus more and more on statutory responsibilities.
“School crossing patrols aren’t a statutory responsibility and we feel from the feedback and discussions we’ve had with schools, that schools can at least assist in the funding of these crossing patrols.
“School budgets have not faced the same cuts as we have as a council and it’s not something we want to do.
“We are having to make some really difficult decisions affecting some really vulnerable people, and the council came to the view last year that it was reasonable to ask schools to meet half the cost.”
Tory Leader Coun Geoff Driver slammed the cuts as “entirely unacceptable”.
He said: “There are other ways savings can be made without putting children’s lives at risk.
“In effect, the county council is forcing headteachers to choose between spending their school’s scarce resources on the safety of children on their way to and from school or on their education.
“This is grossly unfair. The county council is responsible for road safety and they should not be seeking to pass that responsibility on to the schools.”