Decision expected before year is out on future of Borders’ public toilets

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison.
Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison.

The fate of the region’s public conveniences is expected to be decided before the year is out.

Scottish Borders Council members agreed to look into privatising the region’s public toilets last year after a report revealed that the decision taken in 2017 to begin charging 30p for spending a penny had netted less than a third of its £280,000 target.

Since then, officers have been working to identify potential third parties willing to take over the loss-making lavatories, and in November the council confirmed it had been consulting with a private-sector company considering overseeing toilets here.

The council has also published a procurement notice on the Public Contracts Scotland website asking any interested parties to get in touch.

“Given current budget pressures, the council are seeking a service provision that is efficient and financially sustainable,” it says.

“Currently the income generated from paid access to the toilets at 27 locations is insufficient to offset total operational costs of the network.”

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, the authority’s executive member for neighbourhoods and community services, told last Thursday’s full council meeting that work is ongoing to hand over responsibility for the controversial conveniences.

He said: “Officers continue to work with community groups across the Borders who have expressed an interest in operating this type of facility.

“At the same time, officers are continuing to develop conversations around procurement options internally to then engage with third parties externally.

“We expect the outcome of that process will conclude in the latter part of this year.

“This will allow members to consider which direction they may wish to take over the service’s future.”

East Berwickshire councillor Helen Laing told him: “I’ve had two complaints about the condition of public toilets within my ward.

“The Berwickshire tourist initiatives are making great strides to increase the number of visitors, and we are being let down by absolutely basic facilities.

“Can you assure us that immediate steps will be taken to improve the condition of our public toilets before the tourist season gets into full swing?”

Mr Aitchison replied: “As we receive reports, then we deal with them, so if there are defects, we need to know about them.”

“The fact is that this is a challenge. This is a historical issue we’re trying to deal with.

“Other authorities in Scotland have simply locked the door, and that creates other problems.”

The current 30p charge for using 27 of the council’s 41 public toilets was agreed by a full council meeting in February 2018 after councillors were told that such a fee could generate an income of £280,000 a year.

In practice, however, the annual income generated by the new charges is expected to be less than £90,000.