Council looks to privatise public loos

Eyemouth public toilets.
Eyemouth public toilets.

Scottish Borders Council chiefs have agreed to look into privatising the region’s public conveniences.

At last Thursday’s full council meeting in Newtown, members voted to launch a procurement exercise to seek out potential third-party partners to oversee the 41 public toilets in the Borders.

That decision follows a report revealing that charging for using public toilets has netted just a third of the income the council had hoped for.

The current 30p fee for using 27 of the council’s public toilets in the Borders was agreed by a full council meeting in February after members were told that charging for using the loos would be expected to generate an income of £280,000 a year.

However, a report to councillors estimates that the total income for the initiative’s first year will be just £89,000.

SBC’s neighbourhood services manager, Jason Hedley, said: “A significant body of anecdotal evidence around payment avoidance has been received and observed, including from elected members.

“This centres around following the previous paying entrant into the facility, people exiting the facility allowing free access by holding the entry door open, families paying one fee for multiple usage or antisocial behaviour, where people vandalise doors or wedge them open, allowing free access to all.”

Because of that disappointing income, councillors were asked to consider five options, including maintaining the status quo, introducing fees for the 14 remaining free-to-use toilets, increasing the current 30p charge or shutting some WCs.

The option recommended by officers is to privatise the toilets.

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, said: “We’re recommending option five as something a little more radical to take this issue further.

“It could be an innovative solution which has worked in other areas of the country.

“Further discussions will take place with councillors and communities in the next stage of the review.

“It is worth emphasising that no final decisions have been made.”

East Berwickshire councillor Helen Laing said: “This is a big mess literally. The report points out that the status quo is not an option. Something needs to change.

“The use of an outside party will inevitably lead to some loss of organisational control, and ultimately it will be service users who suffer. Good public toilets are not a very glamorous ambition, but, none the less, they are essential for our communities.

“The bulk of the comments contained in this report are not about the charging but, rather, about the standard of provision. We can do better.”