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Crossing Patrols are Public Goods, Not Traded Services

Trafford Council recently announced a proposal to change School Crossing Proposals into 'traded services', effectively cutting the service while seeming to pass it onto the private sector. This is the letter I sent to Trafford Council on 27th November 2016 in response to this outrageous proposal, along with their reply, and my response to that.

Dear Trafford Council,

It has been just over a year since I wrote to you in defence of our local School Crossing Patrol Services, which you attempted to axe in 2014-2015 using rhetoric that was, as I outlined at the time, ill-founded, misleading, and immoral. Now, you have announced a new set of budget proposals in which you accept that these services “make a valuable contribution towards pupils’ safe and sustainable travel to schools” but then propose to make them into “a traded service” such that the costs can be pushed onto local schools and community groups. Are we to understand from this suggestion that Trafford Council believes that the children of rich families have a greater right to life, and thus that the children of poorer schools deserve to die in traffic accidents?

According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), road accidents account for half of the accidental deaths of school-age children, far more than any other kind of accidents. The risk is particularly great when living next to a dangerous road, such as the A56 between Altrincham and the city centre (Chester Road, Cross Street Washway Road etc.) where many key crossing patrols operate. Research conducted in 2001 suggests that children from poorer families were at least 20 times more likely to be killed as pedestrians than children from richer families.

Trafford Council’s proposal to treat crossing patrols as ‘traded services’ is an attempt to push the cost of essential safety services that protect the lives of our children onto the local schools. But the schools attended by those living in relatively poorer areas are already suffering from the effects of government mandated ‘austerity’, and are struggling to afford essential teaching services, let alone the additional expense of crossing guards. This proposal is a dishonest attempt to cut an essential safety service by seeming to transfer it. The schools that need these services cannot afford to pay for them, but the families cannot afford to lose them.

At root, the proposal to make crossing patrols ‘traded services’ is not even plausible, since a typical crossing patrol does not serve a single school. Considering just the crossing over Chester Road in Gorse Hill, children cross here to half a dozen local schools, and to reach bus stops on both sides of the road to travel to schools further afield, as well as to reach nurseries and other local facilities. There is no way to ‘trade’ the cost of such a vital service to a single school.

If the intent is to divide the costs between all the schools that the service supports, it would be necessary to create an intermediary to manage the complicated payment system required. But of course, we already have such an intermediary: Trafford Council. Indeed, the sole purpose for local government is the provision of public goods, such as road safety services. If Trafford Council intends to offload its duties as a provider of public goods, it might just as well do away with itself. Until such time as the risk from motor vehicle accidents has been thoroughly mitigated (and there is little sign of this happening), local councils have a moral duty to provide protection to the vulnerable members of the community at risk from road accidents.

The suggestion to treat crossing patrols as ‘traded services’ is a farce and an insult to every family who benefits from these essential public goods – not to mention implying that Trafford Council believes that the children of poor families are worth less than those of rich families. No doubt their own children are not the ones at risk. On behalf of everyone whose children’s lives Trafford Council are gambling with, I warn you that we will not take this affront lightly, and urge you to reconsider this unjust policy before it costs you your seats on the council.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Chris Bateman, BSc, MSc, PhD
Senior Lecturer, University of Bolton,
Visiting Professor, Laguna College of Art and Design, Los Angeles,
and proud resident of Stretford and Gorse Hill

This is their reply, received on the 7th December:

Dear Dr Bateman

Thank you for your correspondence dated 27th November 2016 in which you highlight your concerns regarding the Council’s proposal affecting the School Crossing Patrol Service.

The Council is currently undertaking a public consultation on its budget proposals for 2017-18. The provision of School Crossing Patrols is not a statutory duty for councils, although we recognise that they can make a valuable contribution towards pupils’ safe and sustainable travel to school.

However, the School Crossing Patrol Service National Guidelines clearly state that the responsibility for getting children to and from school is a parental one. It is also important to note it is not the purpose of a School Crossing Patrol to resolve poor driver behaviour.

Therefore, The Council is consulting on the proposal that School Crossing Patrols becomes a “traded service” offered to 3rd parties such as schools and/or community groups / private sector to fund. The Council will retain the accountability for school crossing patrols funded by 3rd parties. This includes the training, risk assessments and health/safety issues.

The public consultation will conclude on 16th December 2016 and we will consider all responses before determining which proposals to take forward. Your views will be included in the consultation process.

Yours sincerely

Phil Valentine
Environment Strategic Business Manager

I responded as follows:

Dear Ms Keogh,
Thank you for the reply from Phil Valentine.

Mr Valentine is correct that parents bear the ultimate responsibility for getting their children to schools, and that School Crossing Patrols are not responsible for poor driver behaviour. However, Trafford Council is responsible for all public infrastructure in the region and thus bears a tacit responsibility for the confluence of traffic where it intersects with the catchment areas of schools and presents a substantial danger to school-aged children. If the council withdraws its support for crossing patrols in these areas, it is derelict in its moral responsibilities, whatever its legal responsibilities might be, since it is denying its responsibility for dangers brought on by infrastructure conditions that it alone is in a position to affect.

What is more relevant here is that the proposal to make crossing patrols a traded service amounts to the claim that only wealthy schools should have the additional protections and assistance provided by a crossing patrol. This is severely problematic given that the places where these patrols are most needed are precisely the places which can least afford to fund them. This is the core issue raised in my letter. The proposal implies that Trafford Council believes that richer children have a greater right to life than poorer children. Mr Valentine's reply shows no evidence that he or Trafford Council care about this issue.

I appreciate that, as a Strategic Manager, responsibility for policy decisions does not fall upon Mr Valentine shoulders. I would therefore ask for the contact details of those at Trafford Council who were responsible for this policy decision that I might pursue this matter further with them.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Chris Bateman


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