Archive for May, 2016

..the BBC’s new toilet data

BBC Breakfast reported today that 1782 toilets had closed in the UK in the last decade, based on their FOI requests.

Data from 331 out of 435 councils also showed

  • 10 councils have no council-run toilets (Newcastle, Merthyr Tidfil, Wandsworth..)
  • 22 councils have only one (Manchester, Stockport, Tamworth..)
  • Highland Council has 127, Pembroke 73, Cornwall 65.
  • 4/5 councils have cut expenditure since 2011, with £21 million less spent in total (a reduction of 1/3)
  • 43 councils have reduced their budgets by more than 70%.

It’s very exciting to see data produced on toilet closures, considering the scale and importance of the issue. This up-to-date information is so useful when it comes to campaigning for better access to toilets.

I’m particularly obsessed interested in the data itself, particularly its accuracy, and what it says about the accuracy of other sources out there. So how does this data compare with our own analysis, over the years?

  • In 2014 we found 8 councils providing no council-run toilets from our FOI requests: Copeland, Hambleton, Bolsover, Shropshire, Breckland, North-east Derbyshire , North Dorset and Tewkesbury.  Regarding those picked out by BBC Breakfast as not having any toilets: in 2014 Newcastle then listed 7 on their website, Merthyr Tidfil had 8 (via our FOI) and Wandsworth still had their Community Toilet Scheme of 70+ facilities.
  • Our top three were Gwynedd (121 toilets), Highland (111 toilets) and City of London (92 toilets). Gwynedd and City of London both have Community Toilet Schemes within these numbers, which would account for their failure to make the BBC top 3.
  • We only consider there to be 406 or 407 councils at the tier of local government that is responsible for public toilets, not the 435 reported above which refers to all UK councils; county councils are not relevant. Nit-picking, yes, however, parish and community councils are stepping in more and more, so this issue is set to become massively more complicated. It’s unclear whether this would be picked up in the BBC data – a toilet that is no longer run by the district council would appear as a reduction in council-run facilities, so would this be therefore a ‘closure’, even if the community or parish council was now running it?
  • In terms of closures, the best data we’ve had so far came from using the Valuation Office Data for England and Wales, which lists how many toilets are eligible for business rates each year, where I found a 28% reduction in public toilets since 2000. The BBC data says 1782 toilets have closed in the UK since 2006. I have numbers from the Valuation Office Agency from 2004 and 2008 but not 2006; these show a reduction in numbers of 1156 toilets and 701 toilets respectively. However, consider that the VOA data doesn’t include Scotland or Northern Ireland. There’s also not an exact correlation between ‘council-run public toilets’ in the BBC’s report and ‘public conveniences subject to business rates’ in the VOA data. Whichever definition is used, we’ll still end up with a figure north of 1000 toilets closed in 10 years for the whole of the UK.

So, all in all we now have multiple sources of data about public toilets that seem to support each other and stand up to some gentle scrutiny. Thank you BBC for this latest report.

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May 31, 2016 at 9:59 am 1 comment


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