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18 January 2011, 10:14
Local communities will be given an extra three months by Dorset County Council to find alternative funding to provide school crossing patrols.
The county council recently entered an eight-month period of consultation over its proposal to withdraw its funding for school crossing patrol salaries as part of plans to save £54.9m over the next three years.
In December, the county council agreed to pursue the proposal to stop funding the salary costs for its 65 crossing patrol sites to save around £200,000.
It was proposed that funding would be withdrawn from the 10 sites that either do not meet the national criteria or operate on an existing pedestrian crossing in July 2011 and the remaining 55 sites in December 2011.
However, following discussions, the council has decided to extend consultation for all of its patrol sites to the end of March 2012. This is to give town and parish councils, schools and other community groups more time to coordinate funding or a put a volunteer service in place.
Where alternative funding sources are agreed or suitable volunteers come forward, the county council would retain the management, supervision and training responsibility for the service.
The council will discuss the savings proposals at its budget setting meeting on Thursday 17 February.
Peter Finney, Dorset County Council Cabinet member for highways and transportation, said:
"This is a very complex issue and we felt that communities needed more time to identify alternative ways to continue to provide a patrol service. Services requested by local communities need to be paid for and we are keen that local communities support their patrols in the longer term."
Earlier this month the County Council explained what they wanted to do:
"The county council has agreed to withdraw the county council’s funding for SCP salaries. Alternative funding options or volunteers will be sought through discussions with schools, local town or parish councils and community groups. Where alternative funding sources are agreed or suitable volunteers come forward, the county council would retain the management, supervision and training responsibility for the service.
"The saving to the county council of withdrawing funding from SCP salaries is approximately £200,000.
"DCC employees 85 people as school crossing patrols, including relief patrols. All affected employees have been notified at the same time."
At the time of the announcement, Weymouth mum Helen Toft, told Heart she thinks it could increase the chances of a child getting injured or even killed on the walk to school:
"I just think it's dreadfull. It's 65 jobs and the health and safety of our children and I think it's a mistake."
She's now launched a campaign to try and stop it - download her petition by clicking here.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Is Dorset County Council (DCC) proposing to withdraw the entire SCP service in Dorset?
No, the proposal is to withdraw DCC's funding for SCP salaries. Alternative funding options or "volunteers" will be sought through discussions with schools, local town or parish councils and community groups. Where alternative funding sources are agreed or suitable volunteers come forward, DCC would retain the management, supervision and training responsibility for the service.
Does DCC have to provide a SCP service?
No, Local Authorities are not legally obliged to provide a SCP service. DCC does so at its discretion.
Doesn't DCC have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the safety of children walking to and from school?
No, the ultimate responsibility rests with parents or carers.
Can a SCP operate anywhere on DCC roads?
No. DCC adopts nationally approved criteria when establishing SCP sites. This complex set of criteria includes the measurement of traffic volumes and numbers of children crossing in the busiest 30 minute period. The SCP can only operate at a site authorised by DCC.
Can volunteers work as SCPs?
Yes, a volunteer can perform the duties of a SCP if the site is authorised by DCC. The volunteer must abide by all guidance given by DCC. DCC will provide appropriate insurance in these cases.
Can schools fund their own SCPs?
Technically yes, but they cannot use their devolved budget to pay the salary. Schools may find other ways to provide funding towards the employment of a patrol, perhaps through the PTA, but the management of the service should be administered by the local authority in accordance with national guidance.
How much will it cost for the local community/school to fund a criteria SCP site?
The approximate cost of funding a patrol per school term is £1000
How much will it cost for the local community/school to fund a non-criteria SCP site?
The approximate cost of funding a patrol per school term is £1300
Can parents legally stop traffic and cross groups of children?
No, only trained staff or volunteers wearing the approved uniform and displaying the approved sign can legally stop traffic at sites authorised by the local authority.
Can parents escort groups of children across the road instead?
Yes, parents could work together to escort groups of children across a road when it is safe to do so. The road safety team can provide guidance on the safest way to do this. The parents cannot legally order traffic to stop, however.
Can local communities fund a SCP?
Local communities can work together to find the funds to pay the salary costs of their SCP if no volunteer can be found. DCC would manage the service using the funds provided by the local community.
Does DCC intend to withdraw sites that cannot be funded by the local community or where a volunteer cannot be found?
No, the proposal is to withdraw the funding for salaries. If, however, a local community could provide the funds then the SCP site would remain. The site could also remain if a reliable "volunteer" service could be set up under DCC control. If no funds or volunteers are forthcoming from the local community then as long as the site still meets national criteria it would remain "dormant".
If a SCP site remains dormant for a period of time, will it be replaced by an alternative facility?
There is no DCC funding allocation at present for an alternative crossing facility such as zebra and puffin crossings. The site would remain "dormant". The ultimate responsibility for the safety of children walking to and from school is a parental one.
Is there any evidence that child pedestrian casualties will increase if SCP sites are not staffed?
There is no evidence nationally to suggest that child pedestrian casualties will increase if there was no SCP on duty at a site when there would normally be someone there to stop the traffic.
Will fewer children walk to school if SCP sites are not staffed?
There is no evidence to suggest more children will be driven to school if a SCP site is not staffed. The main reasons why parents drive their children to school in order of most frequently mentioned are; convenience, distance and inclement weather. In all the surveys undertaken by DCC asking parents to state the main reasons why they drive their children to school, surprisingly, safety concerns rarely feature in the responses. In the few where they are mentioned, they tend to relate more to "stranger danger" or bullying than road safety.
How many SCP sites are there in Dorset?
There are presently 66 SCP sites in Dorset. One of these sites is already fully funded by a Town Council as the site does not meet national criteria.
If a child is killed or seriously injured at a site where a Patrol has been withdrawn for funding reasons alone, will DCC be partly responsible, and as such, liable to prosecution?
As long as DCC can show that it has taken all reasonable steps to notify parents and children in good time via the school that the Patrol site will, on a given date, no longer be staffed, then it will be up to a court to decide culpability in these circumstances. It will take into account the fact that DCC does not legally have to provide the service and the fact that the ultimate responsibility for the safety of children walking to/from school is a parental one.