County needs to get its story straight

THE county council’s attitude to school crossing patrols has become increasingly confusing over the last few weeks � and the statements from the administration at the last full council meeting muddied the waters still further.

It had always puzzled me why the council was determined to push through the abolition of the service to save such a small amount as �174,000 a year.

During the debate senior councillors led by transport spokesman Guy McGregor suggested the decision was more about divesting services than saving money.

That provides an explanation – but since the proposed savings of �42.5 million were first proposed senior members of the administration have been at pains to explain they were not about the New Strategic Direction and divestment but about addressing the council’s immediate cash shortage.

The council cannot have it both ways. I suspect the decision to axe school crossing patrols is more about localism than saving a tiny amount of money – but they really should have got their story straight at the start.

And here we get to the second point about the issue.

If the council wants to divest the service it really should have given a lot more thought and attention to the legal position.

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The fact is that law says only people who are employed by the police authority or the highways authority (the county council) have the right to stop traffic.

Where does that leave divested crossing patrols paid for by parish councils, schools, or sponsors?

I’m not suggesting for a second that the police are going to rush around arresting parents who put up their hand to allow a group of children to cross the road.

But what happens if a parent, or a child, is knocked down by a car that does not stop?

Legally the parent would be guilty of obstructing traffic rather than the driver guilty of failing to stop.

And what would be the position with insurance? It doesn’t bear thinking about!

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has raised the issue with the government and there might eventually be a change – but I can’t see that being a major priority for ministers.

So while it’s all very well to talk about community solutions to the issue of crossing patrols, it’s not all as simple as some councillors would like us to think.