Eyebrows raised that council staff had keys to use public toilets - when they were locked due to the pandemic

Scottish Borders Council is facing claims of inconsistency after issuing staff with keys for public toilets when they were closed to members of the general public during the pandemic.

West Linton public toilets. (Photo: Ian Reid)
West Linton public toilets. (Photo: Ian Reid)

The arrangement emerged at a meeting of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee this week as members considered a 1,300-name petition calling for the reopening of the toilets in West Linton.

During the meeting it was confirmed that council staff – including refuse collectors, maintenance staff and those out cutting grass – were issued keys to use during the course of their duties.

It was a situation which came as a surprise to Ian Reid, who had launched the West Linton petition.

He said: “One of the things that really hit home was when the question was raised of council workers using the toilets, when they empty the bins and cut the grass.

"What transpired is that they, quite understandably, have been getting a key from SBC to use the public toilets. So the public toilets are used by council workers, which presumably then need to be cleaned. So they were cleaning them for their staff but not intending to open them for the members of the public. That’s just a ludicrous position.”

After launching the petition Ian became aware from the support generated that toilet closures affected many other smaller communities across the Borders, places such as Stow, Morebottle, Greenlaw, Chirnside, Denholm and Broughton

Then in early September the council changed its policy and the public toilets were reopened in these communities, at which point Ian applauded the decision and assumed that the campaign was over.

But he submitted the petition to this week’s committee after learning of plans for a winter closure of the facilities, starting on October 31.

Ian added: “I asked the committee that if the toilets close in November what will our bin men and others do and I was told they will continue to have a key. How can they justify that?

"It’s good for our council workers but what about telecoms workers, white van drivers, supermarket delivery drivers, postal people. It’s not just local residents, it’s all the trades people.

"What it proves is that public toilets are not just an add-on extra, they’re an absolute necessity.”

The cost of maintaining the public toilets in West Linton, which has a population of two thousand, is estimated at £7,000 a year. “That’s a drop in the ocean in council spending terms”, Ian added.

The audit committee recommended that West Linton toilets remain open and offered support for the continued use of other such facilities in the Borders.

A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said more public toilets were opened only on a temporary basis until October 31 to “meet a key tourism window”.

A report was being prepared on public toilets policy and its recommendations are expected next month.