.. Wandsworth’s Community Toilet Scheme

May 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm 6 comments

This week, whilst trawling council papers for mention of loos, as one does, I noticed that Wandsworth Council are scrapping the budget for their Community Toilet Scheme.

CTS-sticker-Batterseasmall

They’re not scrapping the Community Toilet Scheme – they’re just not going to pay businesses to participate in it anymore.

Community Toilet Schemes (CTS) are where the council pays local businesses (shops, pubs, cafes, etc) a yearly fee in exchange for letting the public use their toilets without having to buy anything. The council has an annual contract with each business, and the business has to display a sticker in their window so that the public know that they can use their loos. They council may also make leaflets or maps, and list the businesses online.

Community Toilet Schemes are suggested by the Government as a good way to supplement a council’s existing public toilet provision, but they do seem to launch at around the same time as the council announces the closure of the public loos.

Wandsworth Council are no exception.

In 2008 they launched their CTS and spent a couple of years building it up whilst closing down their Automatic Public Conveniences, or Superloos. I struggled to care about the toilet closures. Many of the Superloos were not well used – the most expensive was costing the council £18.08 per visit – and you couldn’t pay me to go in one. The council built up their scheme responsibly, ensuring a good coverage of the borough, and that the scheme included at least one CTS participant in each location where a Superloo had been.

Prior to the CTS, Wandsworth were paying £456 000 a year for 24 Superloos.

Their current CTS, one of the largest in the country, has over 100 toilets, and pays a generous annual fee to each participant of £900. Its annual costs are £100 000.

Even with the huge annual savings already made from switching to a CTS, this is apparently still too much, so the new budget is £0.

The council report says that the scheme will stay in place, as

“many of the businesses may see the increased footfall as commercially advantageous”.

Which would be great if it was based on fact, and businesses had finally recognised that toilets are an asset to shopping areas like the high street and should be valued and promoted as such.

However I’ve just noticed the word ‘may’ in that quote: “many of the businesses may see the increased footfall as commercially advantageous”.

May? Do they not know? Are participants even experiencing higher footfall? Have the council not asked them?

This sounds like nothing but a notion; a half-hearted justification for removing the entire budget.

Taking away the incentive of money jeopardises the whole scheme.

Firstly, if there’s no payment then there’s no need for a contract. The only way Wandsworth promote the scheme is through the stickers in the participants’ windows, which is one of the biggest problems – businesses did not comply. Previously if a business failed to comply then they were breaking their contract and the council could take away the money and chuck them out the scheme. Without the fee they’ve no contract, without a contract they can’t enforce the stickers, and without the stickers you’ve got no scheme (or “Open London” as the Mayor calls it).

It also means that you’ve got less leverage to ensure an inclusive public service, one with a good distribution of toilets, opening times and facilities (e.g. wheelchair accessibility, baby-changing). The scheme is now driven by commercial gain instead of public need. The market will decide where you wee.

Finally, it means Wandsworth Council also have no budget to promote the scheme more effectively, such as through leaflets (Richmond), posters (Waltham Forest), or directional signs (Lambeth).

Basically I was trying not to be cynical and thought maybe Wandsworth Council had done their research and had a plan, but with no money, no enforcement, no control, no promotion and no justification, it would be easy for someone to summarised that Wandsworth Council had:

1) Started a Community Toilet Scheme in order to close their public toilets,

2) Closed their Community Toilet Scheme.

But cheer up!

By cutting their entire toilet budget, Wandsworth Council have saved their residents (or ‘Wandsworth taxpayers’ as they like to say) a whopping 87p a year.

Or 2.9 wees at Clapham Junction station.

Don’t spend it all at once.

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Entry filed under: Politics. Tags: , , , .

… the British Toilet Association The 5000 toilets of England and Wales

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paul  |  May 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Unfortunately Wandsworth are in the position of having a “lowest tax in the country” image to maintain when they’ve just been slapped with £20m worth of extra savings to be made in a short time. Their recent committee paper on service reviews says that “where services are discretionary, full consideration should be given to discontinuation”. So CTS was clearly an early target. And therein lies the root of the problem; the failure of successive governments to place a duty on councils to provide public toilets. Other than in tourist hotspots we are heading towards the extinction of the municipal toilet. It’s ironic that local authorities have just acquired responsibility for public health just as they are eradicating the provision of public toilets.Very joined-up. It will be interesting to see if anyone remains in the Wandsworth scheme; the libraries perhaps but as for any of the others don’t hold your breath. Even when the scheme was funded half of them took the money and never displayed the stickers.

    Reply
    • 2. Gail  |  May 7, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks Paul, that’s really useful information suggesting that this was an entirely financial decision, especially as the CTS committee paper says that the scheme “has proved to be an effective way of providing public toilet facilities in the Borough at a minimal cost”.

      It’s such a shame that even this vastly cheaper way of providing public toilets is still too expensive and that there’s no better way to protect them.

      Hopefully the remaining toilets in the libraries, cemeteries and Battersea Park are suitably buried and protected by being in other budgets (though I’ve never checked the latter).

      Reply
  • 3. Paul  |  December 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Gail, further to your report, it would appear that only McDonalds have agreed to stay in the scheme,along with Sainsbury’s in Earlsfield (who have to provide a toilet as part of their planning permission for the store). Other than that, all the non-Council participants have left. Sadly I predict other CTS schemes may vanish as the screw tightens on council finances. I hope Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Pickles are pleased with their handiwork.

    Reply
    • 4. Gail  |  December 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for mentioning this. How disappointing, that’s shockingly low. Part of me is impressed that they’ve updated the listings in their website – is that where you noticed this?

      Reply
  • […] May, spurred on by my annoyance at Wandsworth Council’s decision to stop paying businesses to be in their Community Toilet Scheme (a decision which seems to have […]

    Reply
  • 6. Public Toilets and ...  |  February 7, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    […] May, spurred on by my annoyance at Wandsworth Council’s decision to stop paying businesses to be in their Community Toilet Scheme (a decision which seems to have […]

    Reply

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