NEWS
05/12/2018 07:00 GMT

So Long, Lollipop: Birmingham Threatens To Cut Wardens To Save Council Cash

Council budget cuts are putting the jobs of 202 wardens at risk.

Press Association

Cash-strapped Birmingham city council is ditching its yellow-coated army of lollipop men and women – unless schools and parents can raise the cash to fund their own.

Officials say they will not give money for the 202 wardens currently operating across Britain’s second largest city, as part of the council five-year budget proposals.

The move could spell the end of the lollipop-wielding men and women who have helped generations of schoolchildren cross busy roads in the city for more than 50 years.

The wardens were last under threat three years ago, when similar plans were made but they were granted a reprieve after a campaign by the city’s opposition Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders and unions.

Their number has since been reduced by 56 and “high risk” crossing points are now the only places manned by wardens. 

Under the new proposal, those remaining posts would also be axed under council plans to make each one redundant when they next become vacant through departure or retirement.

However, the city council is also offering schools and communities the chance to save their “lollipop” if they can raise the cash to pay their wages, of about £8,000 per annum. In these cases, the council has said it will still fund training, uniforms, site risk and supervision.

They also pledged to continue to offer small grants to schools to develop their own school travel plans to encourage more children to walk, cycle or scoot to school and to improve road safety.

The move would save an estimated £480,000 over four years, as posts become “deleted.”

HuffPost UK spoke to one popular lollipop lady, Carol Potter, 59, who’s been helping kids cross the road at Hawthorn Primary School in Kingstanding, Birmingham, for the last 20 years. 

“I do it because I love being with and helping children,” said Potter, who says she has been struck by a car, had several near misses and has been verbally abused by impatient motorists. 

“The council needs to get its priorities right and stop getting rid of essential services like crossing wardens.

“I love my job and will continue for as long as I can but it’s getting harder. I’ve seen how drivers seem to have become more aggressive and ignorant over the last 20 years and it’s a dangerous job.”

She added: “It’s sad to think lollipop wardens are no longer going to be a sight in Birmingham.”

Kate Stone, head at Hawthorn Primary School, said she was dismayed the positions were under threat again but was reassured to hear that Potter’s position was not threatened. 

“We literally have no other road safety in place despite requests to the council for speed bumps to be put in place or better still a pelican crossing.

“Carol is our children’s only defence against bad driving at the moment.”

GMB union spokesman Stuart Richard, which represents most of the city’s 202 wardens, said: “We’ve been fighting cuts to wardens in the city for years but it’s inevitable that they will eventually disappear off our streets.

“The priority has got to be the safety of our children and we will discuss each case with the council on an individual basis.

“There’s a lot of people out there who would volunteer to do the job for free but there’s issues with public liability insurances and safety.”

A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “Budget consultation runs until the end of this year and a final decision will be taken at Full Council in late February or early March.

“We are not removing any crossing warden from post but have decided not to replace them as they leave.”

The council’s draft proposal admits that the culling of wardens “may result in an un-equitable service not necessarily aligned with need or the level of road traffic risk to children.”

In 2000, responsibilities for the wardens were handed over to local authorities and the legal requirement to provide them outside schools was removed.

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.

It is now discretionary and based on safety requirements.

It’s not clear how many crossing patrol wardens are working in the UK as they are often employed by individual schools or councils who don’t feed figures back to a national body.