Borders council looking into privatising its public toilets

The public toilets in Kelso's Croft Park.
The public toilets in Kelso's Croft Park.

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

At today’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 charge 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 discussed today estimates that the total income for the initiative’s first year will be just £89,000.

As a consequence of that disappointing income performance, 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.

A fifth option, the one recommended by officers, is to privatise the toilets.

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, the council’s portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and locality services, said: “I know that the team have done a large amount of work on this.

“We’re recommending option five as something a little more radical to take this issue further.

“This is a sensible option, and I look forward to the outcome of the review.”

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.

“We are being asked to support option five, to find a third party to undertake the management of the toilet facilities.

“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 residents as they go about their business in our communities.

“Interestingly, 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.

“We should do this ourselves and not rely on others to sort out this mess. As my colleague Andy Anderson commented, we are not in the business of paying someone else to take the p***.”

The report, by neighbourhood services manager Jason Hedley, says: “What is apparent from financial monitoring is that revenue income received to date is significantly less than the estimated levels that were forecast.

“A revised full year of income of £89,000 is now being estimated, a shortfall of some £179,000, which, in turn, was expected to also cover the cost of the implementation of comfort schemes.

“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.”

Among the 27 council-owned toilets now charging fees are those at Jedburgh’s Lothian Park and tourist information centre; High Street, the transport interchange and Bank Street Gardens in Galashiels; School Brae, Eastgate and Kingsmeadows in Peebles; Howegate, the Common Haugh and Volunteer Park in Hawick; and Kelso’s Shedden Park and Woodmarket.

The others are at Eyemouth’s harbour and Bantry car park, Coldstream Courthouse, St Abbs Harbour, Main Street in St Boswells, Earlston bus station, the Avenue in Lauder, Selkirk Market Place, Hall Street in Innerleithen, St Mary’s Loch in the Yarrow Valley, Coldingham Sands, Melrose’s Abbey Place, Newcastleton’s Langholm Street and Briery Baulk in Duns.

The 14 still free are in Burnmouth, Broughton, Chirnside, Cockburnspath, Denholm, Greenlaw, Kelso’s Croft Park, Morebattle, Melrose’s Greenyards, Newtown, Scott’s Place in Selkirk, Stow, West Linton and Yetholm.

The most profitable of the toilets charging fees are those at Galashiels transport interchange, generating £8,966 in 41 weeks, followed by Jedburgh tourist information centre’s with £7,807 and Kelso’s Woodmarket loos with £6,919, then Jedburgh’s Lothian Park WCs with £4,604.