The future of all school crossing patrols is in doubt – as part of county council plans to save another £1m.
County Hall bosses are proposing to remove all of the £1.5m they spend on lollipop men and women as they 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.
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.
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 of 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.”
Lancashire County Council’s finance chief has confirmed that schools will not be asked to fund the full cost of crossing patrols from their individual budgets.
County Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader and finance portfolio holder said: “It is not, and never has been, Cabinet’s intention to ask schools to fund the full cost of school crossing patrols from their own budgets. It is unfortunate that there has been some confusion amongst those who have not been close to ongoing discussions on the best way to fund these services.
“The Council’s current policy, as agreed at Full Council in February 2014, is that schools will receive a grant from the Council towards the cost of school crossing patrols, and that the County Council would continue to provide the school crossing patrol service. This policy has not yet been implemented.
“As part of work to set the council’s budget, an alternative proposal was discussed which considers the funding of the school crossing patrol service from the central resources available to schools; a proposal which is very much subject to consultation with the Schools Forum. It was on this basis that the proposals from Cabinet were put forward to Full Council – there is no intention that schools should fund this from their individual budgets.
“Discussions remain ongoing, and further work is being undertaken with schools to ensure the proposals are properly considered. It is important to stress that there will be no change in the Council’s approach until the consultation with the Schools Forum has been fully, and properly, undertaken.
“Lancashire schools are an important partner, and we will work with them to make sure any proposed changes to the funding of school crossing patrols are properly considered and consulted upon and no proposal will be implemented without this.
“I will be proposing a budget adjustment on Thursday at the meeting of Full Council to clarify for all members that we propose to set aside funds from reserves to ensure that we can take the appropriate time to consult properly with the Schools Forum.
“I will therefore be recommending that there is no change in the current position in 2015/16 and we will not be asking schools to share the costs of crossing patrols from September 2015.”