Concerns were raised this week that the fitting of automatic opening and locking devices on the region’s public conveniences will lead to job losses, writes Andrew Keddie.
But Scottish Borders Council, which admitted this week that the cost of new electronic equipment was more than £21,000, defended the move, claiming it would improve the efficiency of its environmental services department.
The local authority also asserted that “no jobs are under threat”.
The issue was raised at Monday’s meeting of Selkirk Community Council by Gordon Edgar, a former technical services portfolio holder with SBC and an Independent candidate for the Selkirkshire ward at the local government elections next month.
“A squad of contractors is fitting these devices at great expense,” said Mr Edgar. “The devices are timeset and open automatically in the morning and close automatically when the last customer leaves.
“I came upon workers from Borders firms carrying out the work at Selkirk’s unmanned toilets in Scott’s Place last week and they told me they were also fitting them in Hawick and Galashiels.
“I have never heard anything about this and our community council has not been informed, although I fear it may have serious implications for our town.”
Mr Edgar said that, two years ago, toilet attendants were given different job descriptions and the clearing of litter became part of their duties.
“This was a welcome move which has greatly enhanced the appearance of our towns, but with their toilet responsibilities being removed I fear this will lead to these staff losing their jobs,” said Mr Edgar.
“In other areas which have these devices, the locks often don’t work and doors can be jammed open with cigarette packets. I suspect this idea, driven by cost-cutting, has not been thought through and could end up costing the Council Tax payer more money, not less.”
On Monday, Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Con, Selkirkshire) reminded Mr Edgar that SBC had a policy of no compulsory redundancies. “Instead of sitting in these facilities, staff are now out making our towns more attractive which is a huge improvement,” she added.
An SBC spokesperson told TheSouthern: “The council is committed to no compulsory redundancies, so no jobs are under threat. As a public body we are also committed to continuous improvement within our services and this is one area where this can be done utilising technology.
“By reducing the number of staff and vehicle movements, we are improving the efficiency of the service and are reducing our fuel consumption and carbon footprint.”
The spokesperson confirmed that the cost of the new locking equipment which included new door closers, locks, nightlatches and electronic locking mechanisms was £21,049.
Councillor Len Wyse (Con, Jedburgh), executive member for environmental services, told us: “The public has a right to expect that we are delivering services efficiently and offering value for money, and the previous situation of staff having to travel many miles just to open and close facilities in rural locations is a poor use of staff resources.
“As a result of the new technology, these valued employees will be free to carry out more litter pick-ups, not less ... and I can assure your readers that the toilets will still be cleaned on a daily basis.”
Mr Wyse did, however, offer some advice to users of the region’s toilets. “If you are the last one in there before the toilets are due to close, try not to leave personal effects, such as wallets, inside as you won’t be able to get back in until the follow day.”