Charging for spending penny failing to pile up pounds for Borders council

Charging Borderers for spending a penny has failed to pile up as many pounds as Borders council bosses had hoped for.

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

The decision to charge for using its public toilets has netted just a third of the income that Scottish Borders Council had anticipated, raising the possibility of up to 24 closures, increased fees or privatisation.

The current 30p charge for using 27 of the council’s 41 public conveniences across the region was agreed by a full council meeting in February 2017 after members were told that such a move would be expected to generate an income of £280,000 a year, based on previous usage figures.

However, a report set to go before another full council meeting this Thursday, June 28, reveals that the total income generated in the new regime’s first year in operation will be just £89,000.

Because of that shortfall, councillors are being asked to consider five options.

The first would see the status quo maintained, with the council’s finances taking a sizeable hit.

The second is increasing the current 30p charge to 50p.

The third is extending charging to the council’s 14 remaining free-to-use public toilets.

The fourth option would see selected closures of loos, based on usage and location.

The fifth and final option is the one being recommended by officers, and that is to farm out the management of the toilets to a third party, effectively privatising the council’s public toilets.

The report, by neighbourhood services manager Jason Hedley, puts forth anecdotal evidence to explain the shortcomings in income generation, saying: “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.”

If the preferred option of privatising our privies is agreed, assurances would be sought from any third party seeking to take them over that all 51 will remain open.

“Any agreement would need to address the issue of risk, service standards, quality and flexibility,” writes Mr Hedley.

“Critical to the agreement would be a commitment to provide and maintain all of the council facilities for a defined period, therefore ensuring that loss-making facilities are subsidised where required by more profitable venues.”

Among the 27 council-owned toilets now requiring payment 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 and Jedburgh’s Lothian Park WCs with £4,604.