Lollipop crisis licked at last

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Recruitment campaigns and higher pay mean children crossing busy roads should be much safer this year, reports Sadie Gray

Lollipop men and women are returning to school crossings around the country, filling jobs that have been empty for years.

Major recruitment efforts have succeeded after years of decline in the number of crossing staff - blamed on stroppy motorists, awkward shifts and working in bad weather which caused them to quit in droves. At the peak of the crisis, some councils had half their posts vacant.

The average shortage in England and Wales was 17.5 per cent two years ago and as high as 50 per cent for some local authorities, said the Local Government Association.

But now many councils have filled all but 5 per cent of vacancies using tactics from paying better wages to mounting a "Wall of Shame" display of unused lollipops to demonstrate the scale of the problem.

The association praised councils for recruiting so many new crossing officers before the start of the new school year.

Lollipop men or women now cover at least 95 per cent of sites in Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Thurrock, in Essex, and Sandwell, West Midlands. Of Sandwell's 99 patrol areas, only four are vacant, compared with 26 empty posts in 2002.

Mahboob Hussain, Sandwell council's cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said the problem was solved by increasing pay to pound;6.05 per hour, raising the retirement age from 65 to 75, and a publicity campaign.

Recent Sandwell recruit Gillian Stamp, aged 60, of Bearwood, said she applied because she enjoyed looking after people and wanted a job which left her free in the school holidays to visit her four grandchildren.

Since February, she has marshalled pupils from Bearwood primary and other nearby schools safely over two zebra crossings at a busy corner.

Mrs Stamp said: "I know the majority of the children by sight, so when I see them coming up I know which ones have got to cross. I take over the ones in pushchairs to get them used to crossing with someone in a uniform, and they always wave to me.

"The children are very good - the motorists are the problem. They don't like stopping. But as long as I can stand and hold my lollipop, I'll be there."

Stockport council's "Wall of Shame" helped to cut vacancies from 29 to 10, out of 102 posts, in three months. Essex, Luton and Peterborough councils reported staffing levels of at least 84 per cent.

Les Lawrence, chairman of the LGA's children and young people board, said:

"Lollipop men and women save lives.

"Parents expect their child's school to have one and councils are doing all they can to encourage local people to this worthwhile profession."


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