The number of school crossing patrols funded by councils across Great Britain has fallen by almost a quarter in the last five years, new BBC figures show.
The figures, obtained via Freedom of Information requests to councils, reveal that there are now 5,461 council funded school crossing patrols (SCPs) – compared to 7,010 in 2013.
Road safety charity Brake says the decline in SCPs – which equates to 22% – is ‘jeopardising lives’, while Road Safety GB described SCPs as ‘an important and familiar part of many children’s journey to school’.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, told the BBC: “Last year, 1,638 children were killed or seriously injured while cycling or walking on British roads – that’s more than four families receiving devastating news every day.
“We need action now, with investment in safe crossings for children, more investment in cycling and walking infrastructure and 20mph speed limits as the default in communities.”
According to the BBC figures, the largest decline between 2013 and 2018 was in the London borough of Hounslow (91% fall), followed by Newcastle-upon-Tyne (89%), Wokingham (80%), North Somerset (73%) and East Dunbartonshire (63%).
Newcastle City Council told the BBC it is has ‘reluctantly’ cut SCP numbers from 64 in 2013 to seven, because of government cuts.
Meanwhile in Kent, the largest education authority in Britain, the council now employs 137 SCPs compared to 258 five years ago – a loss of 121.
Richard Hall, Road Safety GB’s SCP specialist, said: “Road Safety GB fully supports the School Crossing Patrol service which is as relevant today as it ever was and SCPs are an important and familiar part of many children’s journey to school.
“In recent years local authorities have faced a substantial drop in funding and as a result many services have faced budget reductions – the SCP service being no exception.
“How this is done is a matter for each authority, however reducing duplication by removing patrols from light controlled crossings and removing sites that don’t meet the set criteria are just a couple of examples of how those budget reductions have been managed whilst still maintaining an effective service.
“SCPs play an important part in reducing risk to pedestrians at crossing sites, however it remains a parent’s responsibility to ensure their child gets to school safely whether there is an SCP on their route or not.
“We can’t defend the huge reductions or removal of the service in some authorities but the managed reduction by many for a more lean and efficient service has meant there are fewer patrols, but still maintained a service.”
Stephen Twigg, a Labour MP who campaigns to improve road safety by schools, said parents will be concerned.
He said: “School crossing patrols play a vital part in preventing tragedies from occurring but they have borne the brunt of cuts in government funding to local authorities in recent years.
“The safety of children should not be compromised as a result.”
As part of its investigation, the BBC contacted every local authority with responsibility for SCPs. Two thirds of councils replied with comparable data, meaning the real loss of staff ‘could be substantially higher’, according to the broadcaster.
About 85% of authorities that responded to the Freedom of Information request had cut SCP numbers since 2013 – while only 7% had increased them.
However, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local councils, says they are trying to maintain SCPs ‘wherever possible’.
Martin Tett, LGA transport spokesman, said: “Many councils have been forced to review this discretionary service due to significant pressures on their budgets and increasing demand for statutory services, such as children’s services and adult social care.”