Council in talks over privatising Borders’ public toilets

The toilets at Galashiels transport interchange.
The toilets at Galashiels transport interchange.

Council officers have been holding talks with a private-sector company about the possible privatisation of the Borders’ public toilets, it has been revealed.

The as-yet-unnamed business is being consulted after councillors voted to launch a procurement exercise in June to identify potential third-party partners willing to oversee the maintenance of the region’s toilets.

A report outlining the findings of that procurement exercise is due to go before councillors next week seeking views on closing some toilets, refurbishing others or changing the current charging regime – or a mix of all three.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s Teviot and Liddesdale area partnership last week, councillors were asked for an update on the privatisation proposals.

Denholm community councillor Chris Nicol asked Scottish Borders councillors: “Has the council made any decision as to whether they are going to abandon the public toilets in our villages?

“At the present moment, there are a number of times I have gone to a toilet and it just will not take the money.

“It happened to me getting off the train, and I had to wait for the bus to come and take me home. They really need to look at something.

“I don’t mind paying, but I can’t travel by bus if I know the toilets won’t be operational.

“I have to now go up to Hawick and get the train. There’s a lot of us in that situation.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull, the council’s executive member for finance, replied: “My understanding is that it is one of the many items which will be coming before the council meeting towards the end of November because I know the council have been in discussion with a private company.

“I think they’ve been looking at every facility which is still open at this present time.

“In the report that is to come before the council, there will be recommendations of different levels. Some may be closed, some may be refurbished, the charging system might change, but I’ve not been privy to the draft report.”

The decision to look into privatising the toilets followed a report to the council in June revealing that the decision to charge 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 41 public toilets in the Borders was agreed by councillors in February after they were told that charging for spending a penny could generate income of £280,000 a year.

However, a report to councillors in June revised that estimated down to just £89,000.

A full meeting of the council will be held on Thursday, November 29, and councillors are expected to receive a report then on the procurement exercise with recommendations from council officers on possible courses of action.

The 14 toilets 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, Kelso’s Woodmarket loos with £6,919 and Jedburgh’s Lothian Park WCs with £4,604.