Posts tagged ‘Value’

… business rates.

A blog post inspired by the recent Budget announcement that public toilets will no longer pay business rates, official (vague) details of which can be found Business Rates briefing paper – House of Commons library

From a previous Factsheet from Jan 2017, it seems local authorities could already choose to exempt a privately-owned ‘public convenience’ from business rates, but not a publicly-owned public convenience – meaning their own, or ones devolved to parish/community/town councils.

That’s quite useful, as more and more borough councils are asking these smaller councils to take on the public toilets or see them close. Then asking them to pay business rates on these toilets (£3000 on average, see later on) is a hefty cost to bear.

This reminded me to try to update my records of ‘how many public toilets have closed’ based on VOA data, because this is the only official data source of ‘# of public toilets’ that exists, and can be tracked back to 2000.

So in 2016 I found a 28% reduction in public toilets since 2000, in England & Wales

That’s now: 32% of public toilets in England & Wales have closed since 2000, as of March 2018.

To recap:

In 2000 there were 6087 toilets (source: Hansard)

By 2016 there were 4383 toilets (source: VOA search results for ‘public conveniences’, with results that returned rateable value: ‘deleted’ removed).

So using their new search site – which the response to my FOI request signposted me to – I did an advanced search of Special Category Code – 224: Public Conveniences (National Scheme). I didn’t copy/paste these into Excel as the website showed 173 pages of results, a fact unhelpfully omitted 2 years ago when I did copy/paste the 2016 data. That was fun.

But in these 173 pages were 4316 results. Some of these (maybe 1 or 2 per page of 25 results) are listed as ‘deleted’ or occasionally ‘disused’ or ‘under reconstruction’. Unfortunately as I’m unable to download the results without API knowledge, I can’t easily edit these out.

So instead, I looked at the downloadable-in-Excel dataset called ‘Non-domesting rating: stock of properties 2018’. This gives headline figures for ‘Cat-Code 224 Public Conveniences’ as follows:

224-Public Conveniences (National Scheme) – England & Wales (31st March 2018)

  • Rateable properties (count): 4150 
  • Rateable value: £13 534 000
  • Average rateable value: £3000

As this count of 4150 public conveniences is significantly lower than the 4316 toilets returned in today’s search results, and both are from 2018, this must be the same data with the ‘deleted’ results removed – and at least broadly consistent with data returned in 2000 and subsequent years, in that I also only had headline data and not the full results to interrogate.

Line graph of toilets from Apr 2001 - March 2018, showning downwards trend

Number of Public toilets in England & Wales, from Valuation Office Agency data, updated for 2018: The downwards trend continues.

 

So that’s how I’ve arrived at the statement that 32% of public toilets in England & Wales have closed since 2000 (as of March 2018), and 5% have closed in the last 2 years (March 2016 – March 2018).

I *think* that’s an annual decrease of 2.1%,

or

128 public toilets closing every year.

 

 

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November 5, 2018 at 12:01 pm 1 comment

.. Wandsworth’s Community Toilet Scheme

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.

May 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm 6 comments

… the British Toilet Association

Nearly 3 months ago now I went to the annual conference of the British Toilet Association.

The BTA’s annual conference consists of a morning meeting of around 30-40 people in a hotel in Stratford.

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

It was one of the most useful conferences that I’d been to. The first person I spoke to was Mark Power, the architect who’d designed the new public toilet on the South Bank in London, the ‘Jubiloo’. The next was Roger Berry, the managing director of Healthmatic, one of the main providers of public toilets in the UK. Roger impressed me with his ipad full of public toilet usage statistics – footfall, fluctuation, revenus, ratings, feedback. I had found my people.

Raymond Martin of the BTA talked about the association’s consultation work with a few UK councils, and gave many interesting examples of public toilet management from around the country.

For example, a local scout group had been encouraged to ‘adopt a loo’. how this worked was that the council gave the scout group a couple of grand (I’m guessing..) to maintain the toilet, and any money left over at the end of the year they could keep. The theory was that the vandalism was being carried out by people of the scouts’ age, but that ‘peer-to-peer policing’ would be an effective way of reducing bad behaviour.

In another corner of the country, a council gave a local artist a patch on the street to sell his work, in exchange for keeping an eye on the toilets next door. Other services located at a public toilet to either maintain the toilet or provide natural surveillance included: a taxi rank, bike hire, tourist information, shop and ticket sellers.

Many toilets close due to poor maintenance and anti-social behaviour (or the fear of). ‘Design out crime’ ideas such as stainless steel toilets and UV lighting also design out legitimate use. Ideas such as these provide a more affordable way to maintain a public toilet.

We then had 2 presentations from sales people with public toilet-related products, although I can’t find the links right now so I’ll fill this in later.

I gave a 20 minute presentation about the Great British Public Toilet Map. Both Healthmatic and the BTA were supportive of the project and keen to see it develop. A representative of Visit Britain was also encouraging and we had a good gossip over lunch about the lack of government open data and the struggles of a similar project to map blue badge parking.

All in all, a good day. If I can just get the map off the ground again (translation: find more money), then the support is there to keep it going.

December 14, 2012 at 11:34 am 1 comment

… Money, Cost & Value – Part II

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to fund a toilet.

Having just exhausted the subject of charging the public to use the loos in “…Money, Cost & Value“, I’m going to move on to other ways of generate money, and more importantly, other ways of adding value. (Personally I’d skip the Money part…)
Keep reading…

December 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm 1 comment

… Public Consultation

Everyone knows you can’t change a man, but if you’re trying to win arguments then the ones you have with your partner are the easiest. There are only two views to consider and everyone has their say.

Anything larger, like a group of friends deciding where to go, and yours becomes one voice amongst many. Your powers have diminished! Better form some alliances if you want to have final say.

As the size of the group grows, the ability to consult everyone goes down. Levels of government are introduced so that a few can represent the whole.  Schools have PTAs, Housing developments have a Resident’s Association. Everyone knows who those representatives are and how to contact them, so wider consultation is possible.
Keep reading…

November 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm 2 comments


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