THE future of the region’s school crossing patrols has been thrown into doubt after a North-East council revealed plans to replace them with volunteers.

Darlington Borough Council is reviewing the future of its lollipop service in an attempt to save £300,000 over the next four years.

The authority’s 36 lollipop men and women received letters advising that a switch to a voluntary service was being considered.

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The move follows similar cost-cutting proposals by councils around the country, which point out that local authorities are not legally obliged to provide the patrols.

A survey of councils in the North-East and North Yorkshire by The Northern Echo suggested crossing patrol services in the region were at risk.

Middlesbrough Council said it had 39 lollipop people and would not be making them redundant.

However, the authority admitted that number was likely to reduce over time through natural wastage.

“As numbers fall, priority will be given to key crossing points,” a spokesman said.

Stockton Borough Council also has a policy of not replacing lollipop people who retire, although the authority said it still had about 40 crossing patrol workers and would continue to provide them where needed, in line with national guidelines.

Durham County Council said it had no plans to make its team of nearly 200 lollipop people redundant.

But the authority admitted the service was being regularly reviewed.

Lollipop staff working for Darlington council are urging the public to back a national campaign urging the Government to stop councils cutting down on school crossing patrol services.

Helen Winn is a lollipop lady outside Skerne Park Primary School, in Darlington, and won an Unsung Hero award for her work.

She said: “They can’t always fill the jobs when they become available, so how are they going to find someone to stand in the road for free?

“If you don’t have lollipop people someone will get knocked over. Mine isn’t the busiest road, but children are vulnerable on any road, even the teenagers.”

The national campaign was launched by Dorset parent Helen Toft, after her county council proposed axing the entire lollipop service.

An epetition – epetitions.

direct.gov.uk/petitions/3221 – has been launched urging ministers to make it a statutory requirement for councils to provide school crossing patrols.

Mrs Toft said: “All evidence shows that removing the service will lead to injuries and deaths to young people.”

Darlington Borough Council said school crossing patrols were important.

However, a spokeswoman added: “They are not a service required to be delivered by law, so they are more vulnerable to budget reductions than other areas.

“All our crossing patrol staff have been sent a letter telling them that we are looking at the feasibility of the service, including investigating the possibility of volunteers operating patrols.”

The council said no staff had been put on notice of redundancy.

Officers say the proposal could save £300,000 from a four-year budget of £500,000, although they also advise members in a report that reducing the number of lollipop people could risk children’s safety.

The document also points out that any reduction in crossing patrols could discourage children from walking to school and increase school run congestion.

Durham County Council has 194 school crossing sites and has five vacancies.

Dave Wilcox, the council’s strategic highways manager, said the authority had no immediate plans to reduce the number of school crossing patrols.

However, he said: “As with all areas of the council’s work, the service is regularly being reviewed.”

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, which has 69 lollipop people, said it had no plans to reduce that number, as did Hartlepool Borough Council, which has 40, and North Yorkshire County Council and Sunderland, which both have about 70.