A 9,000-STRONG petition was marched to the doors of County Hall as families brought Dorchester to a standstill in their bid to save Dorset’s lollipop patrols.
A crowd of 120 mums, dads, children and grandparents were given a police escort for their protest march through the county town and are now expecting to have their voices heard against proposals to cut the funding for the service.
Dorset County Council is looking to save £200,000 by axing 65 jobs and wants volunteers to replace them for free or communities to find alternative funding, but campaigners fear that arrangement will see lollipop patrols disappear and children put in danger.
Poppy Case, eight, a pupil at Holy Trinity School in Weymouth, handed over the 9,040 name petition on the steps of the council headquarters alongside march organiser Helen Toft.
Mrs Toft is expecting the number of names to come close to 10,000 by the end of today’s deadline to have the signatures considered in the council’s budget setting meeting on February 17.
She said: “This isn’t about politics or who’s in power or anything like that, it’s ultimately about how children could be injured or killed.
“We are trying to get children walking but this is a step backwards while there are so many councils out there making the right decision.”
After handing over the petition Poppy said she has been asking her mum Jacqui Case when she can walk to school but now fears she will never be allowed to if the lollipop patrols are cut.
Miss Case, 46, of Parr Way, Weymouth, added: “I could volunteer for a couple of weeks and then I would be working and other volunteers are not going to be permanent either.
“It won’t work if it’s not a permanent position like it is now.”
The protesters set off from the Fairfield car park chanting ‘no ifs, no buts, no lollipop cuts’ and a group of children started their own round of ‘don’t stop the lollipop ladies’.
The busy town centre traffic was held up just before noon on Saturday as marchers headed along Weymouth Avenue, Trinity Street, High West Street and along The Grove to County Hall.
If volunteers are found the management and training will remain under council control but some protesters called on those tasks to be passed to schools or governors to save money instead of losing the paid lollipop patrols.
Peter Wright, 42, from Westhill Road, Weymouth, walking with his son Elliot, 12, said: “I feel passionate about the fact they are saying money should be saved from jobs of people who are probably on the minimum wage.
“The service they give provides independence for children.
“If they aren’t there we all know what’s going to happen – a child is going to get hit by a car.”
Mr Wright added: “Children’s safety on the roads is of paramount importance so I can’t understand why any right thinking councillor would consider this.”
* DAVID Crowhurst, vice chairman of Dorset County Council, received the petition alongside Andy Ackerman, the council’s Head of Highways.
On receiving it he repeated the council’s plan to retain paid lollipop patrols until April 2012.
He said he has children and grandchildren and understood parents’ need to keep their children safe but called on schools and communities to find volunteers.
Speaking to the Echo he said: “We must not talk about children being knocked over.
“The service at the moment endeavours to ensure there’s a safe route to school for children.
“We are not going to withdraw the service for another year.”
He added: “This is not a done deal until the council approve the detail of the budget on February 17.
“Over the next year we will endeavour to work to assemble the volunteers.”
Mr Crowhurst said the plans to cut the patrols have been drawn up as part of the council’s efforts to save £31million in the financial year 2011 – 2012.
He added: “To the parents and children this is a frontline service but this is not something we have to provide.
“It’s a discretionary area and we have to take a look at it. My experience of volunteers is that they work extremely hard to do the same job as paid professionals.”