West Somerset Labour Party is calling on the government to use common sense to end the chaos surrounding provision of public toilets. And it says there should be an end to the charging of business rates for this vital public service.
West Somerset is one of many parts of the country where the future of public toilets is in doubt because of the squeeze on council budgets. Until this year the district’s toilets were owned and run by West Somerset Council. But, faced with a financial crisis, the council decided it couldn’t afford to run them. The buck was passed to towns and parishes.
In Minehead, the town council stepped in. But problems soon arose. A gents’ toilet in the centre of town is now closed – because of a collapse in the ceiling of the building passed on by West Somerset.
There have been problems elsewhere and it is not clear whether towns and parishes will be able to afford to run toilets in the long term. Most people are astonished to learn that councils which run public toilets have to pay business rates on them.
Minehead Labour councillor Maureen Smith said:
“This is a dire situation which nearly led to Minehead having no public toilets, despite being a resort town which is host to huge numbers of visitors. This is due entirely to the severe loss of funding from central government and to the fact that business rates have to be paid on public toilets, placing an unfair burden on town and parish councils which are trying to keep them open.
“The reduced service impacts hugely on older people, families with children and those with medical conditions and disabilities. It ultimately is an economic issue as well, as people will not visit shops and attractions if there are no WCs available. And it is a public health issue because if there are no public toilets, a minority of people will use the streets instead.”
West Somerset Labour branch has written to the party’s national policy forum pointing out that there is no statutory requirement on any local authority to provide public toilets, with the result that provision is passed around in an unsatisfactory way. The branch says should be a statutory framework for provision.
It says business rates are a major cost, which becomes a serious problem when lower-tier authorities take toilets on, and that business rates for this public service should be scrapped.