Traffic wardens to be abolished, with powers given to volunteers

The traffic warden is to be abolished 55 years after they first appeared on the streets of London, the home secretary Theresa May is to announce.

The first 40 wardens, dressed in military-style uniforms with yellow shoulder flashes and cap bands, were not only empowered to issue £2 fines for those who parked on the new double yellow lines but were also supposed to “help the public find parking spaces”.

But that helpful image did not last long. The very first parking ticket was issued to a Dr Thomas Creighton, who had left his Ford Popular outside a London hotel while he was inside answering an emergency call to help a heart attack victim.

The subsequent public outcry saw the ticket quashed, but from that moment on traffic wardens never found a place in the public’s affections. Even the Beatles’ paean of praise to Lovely Rita described her as a “meter maid”.

The Guardian reports that the home secretary will announce the demise of the formal role of traffic warden as part of a package that will see the powers of unpaid police volunteers extended to issuing fixed-penalty notices, and even detaining suspects for up to 30 minutes while a uniformed constable arrives.

Traffic wardens were the first police staff to be given police powers without being warranted and sworn constables.

But their death knell was sounded in the 1990s when parking enforcement was decriminalised and local authorities took over the role and replaced them with civilian parking enforcement officers. By 2007 the number of traffic wardens had fallen to just over 1,000, and only 18 currently remain in England and Wales, with most of them in Sussex.

The package to be announced by May, which will form part of the current policing and crime bill, will enable chief constables to use their police staff and unpaid volunteers in a wider range of roles so that uniformed constables can focus on their “core tasks”.

It is expected to lead to the creation of a force of up to 7,000 unpaid police community support volunteers, who will also be allowed to interview victims, take witness statements and even investigate some crimes.

Among the “core tasks” that will only be available to sworn constables will be the powers of arrest, stop and search, using counter-terrorism and surveillance powers, and using a firearm or Taser stun gun.

May said that the essential role played by police officers in carrying out their duties was valued, but they could not do them on their own.

She said: “We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers’ time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out.

“At the same time, we want to encourage those with skills in particular demand, such as those with specialist IT or accountancy skills, to work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely.

The number of uniformed police officers has fallen from a peak of 142,000 in 2010 to 126,000 in 2015, following a 18% cut in Whitehall funding for the police during the coalition government.

The shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, said the volunteers package could lead to policing on the cheap.

“The simple truth is that communities can’t rely on a part-time police force. We have already seen thousands of police and civilian jobs lost and there are more on the way. The police service is an essential public service and cannot be provided on a voluntary basis,” he said.