Hounslow Council


Agenda item

REG 459 -Withdrawal of Funding for the School Crossing Patrol Service

Report by Councillor Amrit Mann, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Environment.

 

Please note that Appendix E – Full Report on all Feedback Received on Consultation – has been published electronically only because of its size.

 

Hard copies are available on request and a reference copy for members will be on deposit in the Members’ Area.

Decision:

Resolved:

 

A)    That Cabinet agreed the recommendations of the report as follows:

 

1.     Cabinet noted the comments of the report, including the public consultation on the removal of funding for the service.

2.     Cabinet approved withdrawal of Council funding for the School Crossing Patrol Service from July 2017 in order to achieve a saving to the Council’s revenue budget of £160,000.

3.     Cabinet approved provisions for schools to buy back the service from the Council as set out in Section 3 and Appendix B of the report.

 

B)    That separately Cabinet would ask the Traffic team to investigate whether the relevant sites discussed at the meeting met the criteria for alternative crossing options, would work with the relevant schools to look at match funding options to buy back the service and would ask the police to investigate traffic enforcement issues.

Minutes:

See the report by Councillor Amrit Mann, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Environment – Agenda Item 3.

 

Councillor Amrit Mann, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Environment, introduced the report. He spoke of the number of school crossing patrol sites but also of the number which were not filled through vacancy or long term sickness. He also advised of some additional mitigation to assist road safety such as the introduction of a zebra crossing at one site. Councillor Mann reported that the Blue School had already stated that the school would like to buy back the service and this option was offered to all schools as part of the report at a cost of £7k per year.

 

The decision was required to contribute towards the £23.5m funding gap that the Council faced. This had forced the authority to undertake a root and branch investigation of discretionary services to consider where the authority might no longer carry out the function. In the case of the school crossing patrol service this would generate an annual saving of £160k.

 

Councillor Mann referred to the draft service level agreement at Appendix B of the report for those schools wishing to buy back the service. He stressed that the recommendation to remove the Council provision was a matter of funding but that the change would not have been considered if members did not think that there were other mitigating services to assist road safety. Hence there was information on accident rates in the appendices, together with information on staffing. There was also the option of third party funding to buy back a service. Councillor Mann moved the recommendations of the report.

 

The Chair noted that he would not ask for a seconder until members had had the opportunity to hear the petitioners.

 

Three petitioners had been invited to address the meeting. Eileen Sheedy, Head of Isleworth Town Primary School was invited to speak first. She explained that her petition had been submitted after the closure of the consultation. She spoke of the school crossing patrol in St John’s Road which was not currently staffed because of accident and injury. This crossing patrol was two roads away from her school and served children and their families attending the Blue School, St Mary’s RC Primary, Gumley Convent School and Isleworth Town Primary. It had been in place a number of years. Ms Sheedy advised that a number of Year 5 and Year 6 pupils walked to school alone because they had a safe place to cross. This encouraged preparation for the independence of secondary school travel. The crossing patrol also assisted the elderly in the vicinity and parents with children in buggies. Staff at the school had noticed increased traffic recently around the side roads because of the congestion along the Twickenham Road since the Church Street closure. Also Isleworth Town Primary had expanded, increasing from two to four form entry. The school roll was now 914 and would increase to 1000 in two years. Similar increases in the number of pupils had happened at St Mary’s and the Blue Schools. So the overall numbers of children coming to school in the area had increased. The school crossing patrol officer had been hit by a car- an accident witnessed by a number of children. There was consultation on a one way scheme for Linkfield Road and controlled parking. The school supported a decrease in the amount of traffic so that they might encourage walking to school, but they needed a school crossing patrol to support this. The school had looked at funding the patrol and had approached St Mary’s and the Blue School to consider shared funding of another crossing patrol but the school now faced cuts of £120k and could not think of funding anything beyond the school boundary. The £7k proposed cost could not be met.

 

Eileen Sheedy advised members that the concern was about the context of road safety for the whole of Isleworth as there were no safe crossings in the middle of St John’s Road.

 

Leila Avery, a long term resident of St John’s Road, explained that she lived opposite the school crossing patrol site and her children had witnessed the accident when the school patrol officer was hit. She advised that the traffic in the area had increased 10 fold as there was an increase in housing and hence the population of the area. She believed that they did need a crossing in St John’s Road to ensure that it was safe. There was residential accommodation for the elderly nearby but no pelican or zebra crossing in the lower part of St John’s Road. Lately 20 m.p.h. signs had appeared on the road but there was no other signage and little to encourage motorists to slow down. The current crossing patrol served a number of schools in the area.

 

Councillor Sue Sampson endorsed what had been said. She had received correspondence from Eileen Sheedy about the security around the patrol. Councillor Sampson had worked with the Blue School to secure community match funding to support the retention of a crossing patrol and was happy to discuss such options with Isleworth Town to look at other pots of funding. She accepted that an additional secure crossing was needed and proposed looking at a pelican crossing.

 

The Chair advised that Cabinet was not in a position to commit to extra funding. However, if there was evidence to support the need for a pelican crossing, Traffic Section with Transport for London would look at that option.

 

The final petitioner was invited to address Cabinet. Gurveen (Roshy) Dhaliwal was a resident of the Crossways in Heston and concerned about the loss of a vital service in the vicinity of Springwell Infant and Junior Schools. There had been no service since February 2016. Since then there had been an increase in the traffic offences at peak times with drivers using zig zag lines outside the school and parking on double yellow lines. Drivers were not stopping at crossings and the traffic flow was not working. There were 500 pupils for the Junior School and 500 for the Infant School trying to cross a small road at peak times. Ms Dhaliwal expressed concerns about observing children on scooters at a distance and pedestrians too acting incorrectly at times. The patrol officer had been able to intervene in cases where motorists had been agitated and had reiterated the rules and regulations and do’s and don’ts. Since the officer had retired there were regular scenes of ‘road rage’ and safety was at risk. Ms Dhaliwal had photographed motorists on double yellow lines and other offences. She believed that if cuts had to be made and the school could no longer have a school crossing patrol, then there needed to be a pelican crossing and railings so people would stop. The Head at Springwell had advised that it was not possible with present resources to allocate teaching staff to monitor the traffic. There were many offences on a daily basis.

 

(Councillor Tom Bruce joined the meeting at this point – 7.23 p.m.)

 

The Chair thanked all three petitioners for coming to the meeting to articulate their views. He advised that some of the problems they had described were not within the remit of a school crossing patrol officer. He understood that some of the problems described related to a number of schools and reiterated that if there was evidence that a pelican crossing would improve safety, the authority would look at that. He would ask Mark Frost, Head of Traffic Section, to look in more detail at the areas referred to. He also advised that the schools should talk to the Safer Neighbourhood Teams as it was their role to deal with motorists breaking traffic laws. There were also options, trialled elsewhere, for parents to work with police in identifying speeding motorists with radar guns. The Chair suggested the petitioners might advise the schools of such initiatives. This was a shared responsibility for the authority with schools and parents. The 20 m.p.h. scheme would be supported with signs and enforcement.

 

Councillor Curran also advised that he and Councillor Mann met regularly with the Borough Commander and would ask him to target the schools for a period of time to catch repeat offenders.

 

Councillor Katherine Dunne thanked the petitioners for coming to inform members of the difficulties. As a local ward councillor she sympathised with their point of view in respect of St John’s Road. She noted that Councillor Sampson had offered to work with the school to consider match funding. Councillor Dunne would be supportive of that if it were possible. She also welcomed looking at other measures such as crossings. She was aware how difficult it was to cross St John’s Road and believed that this should be looked at as a priority. She also believed that a permanent crossing would be more beneficial than a crossing patrol as it would provide a safer route for the whole day, including for the elderly and other groups in the evenings and after dark. Whether or not a crossing could be installed depended on it meeting the criteria and funding being available so there could be no promises. However, Councillor Dunne appreciated the petitioners attending. She pointed out that as with schools, Council budgets were stretched which meant difficult decisions had to be made.

 

Councillor Tom Bruce, speaking professionally, advised that it was not appropriate to put teachers outside schools to monitor traffic behaviour. He pointed out that the school could only be responsible for safety within its control. The local authority was responsible with the enforcement team to do all it could towards road safety within stretched budgets. The Council was committed to pedestrians being as safe as possible but the report identified that the service could stop and safety be maintained. There was the option for schools to retain a service. Councillor Bruce understood that school budgets were stretched but with the government putting budgetary pressures on both local government and schools, someone needed to pay and schools and the Council both had responsibilities to do what they could.

 

Councillor Theo Dennison was pleased to see the fast track of the roll out of the 20 m.p.h. zones as the Key Performance Indicators relating to road safety had been a concern since 2010 and remained so. One problem was the multiplicity of responsibilities. There had been devolution of budgets and responsibilities to schools and shared responsibilities in other areas so it was important to get partnerships right. Councillor Dennison advised that he would like to see all schools with a School Travel Plan. At most schools there were risks from parents dropping off their children, especially in Isleworth where there were also other commuters seeking ‘rat runs’ at risk to others. It was important that schools and parents played their part in working with the local authority to address these issues. The local authority would also look hard at infrastructure such as pelican and zebra crossings to ensure that the authority did what it could at each site. This was a matter for the Traffic team. However, there were a number of measures in Isleworth under investigation via the Isleworth and Brentford Area Forum. For example, they were investigating ‘no go’ areas for cars around schools to defuse the drop off zones. There was still more which could be done and local councillors would focus to do all they could in those areas.

 

Councillor Ed Mayne commented that whilst the speakers focused on their own areas the report covered the service as a whole. Since 2010 the authority had faced £160m in cuts resulting from central government decisions for local government. He advised that he and colleagues had not entered politics to cut school crossing patrols but over 5 years of cuts a number of plans had to change. So far the authority had done all it could to protect patrols but with the extent of the cuts in millions of pounds and an ageing population requiring the majority of the budget to meet social care needs , plus projections of the increase in social care demands to be addressed, cuts in other services had to be made. Local government was shrinking. An increase in the Council Tax had been necessary to fund social care. These were negative reasons but the reality of why Councillor Mayne felt it necessary to support the recommendations. He did not see another way forward.

 

He advised that members were committed to work with communities on safety. Councillor Sampson had already worked to return a patrol to South Street through alternative funding and members would look to find funding where they could. However, in the present case he saw no option but to support the recommendations.

 

The Chair summarised the discussion and advised that the authority would take a robust approach to support all schools having Green Travel Plans and to support improvements in road safety. They would ask the Traffic team to look at the schools mentioned and work with the schools to see whether there was the data to meet the criteria. If so, the Council would look at whether funding could be available. He would raise with the Borough Commander the concerns about breaches of traffic law and seek a purge around those schools to attempt to address anti-social behaviour around the school run with parents dropping off their children. He appreciated the difficulties but assured the petitioners that they would work with the police and the schools on measures to encourage penalising drivers who do not act appropriately.

 

The Chair seconded the recommendations of the report and thanked the petitioners very much for taking the time to support their cases.

 

Councillor Mann also thanked Eileen Sheedy, Leila Avery and Roshy Dhaliwal for stating their case. He also noted that his colleagues had stated the difficulties in which the local authority found itself. No member of the Council wanted to implement these sort of cuts affecting young children but the Council were looking at a number of other measures to reduce speed such as the 20 m.p.h. scheme. He understood that parking on zig zag lines was a major problem from experience with Norwood Green School in his own ward. He advised that they would ask the police to consider a purge to ticket offenders to solve the problem and believed that there were solutions to such issues. He noted from the information in the report about the numbers counted travelling to and from school that parents could be part of the problem. So schools had a role to educate parents to manage traffic flows. Members had talked of investigating mitigating services such as pelican crossings but he had to point out that the cost of implementing one pelican crossing was around £60k so they would be looking at £ ½ m to implement all. Hence they had to consider carefully on a case by case basis, although they would look again at the areas in question.

 

For this evening the report remained and he moved the recommendations to save £160k. This was not something he liked to do but he believed that they had done all they could and needed to make hard decisions to rectify the £23.5m gap in the budget, looking at all services which were not a statutory duty. This was the situation for local authorities everywhere in seeking to address the demands of adult social care. He advised that they would monitor and enforce breaches to ensure safety was maintained. He moved the recommendations of the report with a heavy heart. These were seconded by the Chair.

 

The recommendations of the report had been moved and seconded. Members considered the report and all the issues and options contained therein and in conclusion the recommendations were agreed unanimously.

 

Resolved:

 

A)    That Cabinet agreed the recommendations of the report as follows:

 

1.     Cabinet noted the comments of the report, including the public consultation on the removal of funding for the service.

2.     Cabinet approved withdrawal of Council funding for the School Crossing Patrol Service from July 2017 in order to achieve a saving to the Council’s revenue budget of £160,000.

3.     Cabinet approved provisions for schools to buy back the service from the Council as set out in Section 3 and Appendix B of the report.

 

B)    That separately Cabinet would ask the Traffic team to investigate whether the relevant sites discussed at the meeting met the criteria for alternative crossing options, would work with the relevant schools to look at match funding options to buy back the service and would ask the police to investigate traffic enforcement issues.

Supporting documents: