I was copied in to the above powerful letter from Colinton Community Council to the City of Edinburgh Council on the threat to the villages’ public toilets. Below is my reply.
Firstly, the Community Council should be congratulated for standing up for Colinton residents on this important issue. This is exactly the kind of activity community councils should be leading on.
Much is said in Holyrood about the impact of UK Government “austerity” on the Scottish Government finances. The reality is, however, that the Scottish Government has chosen to specifically target these cuts on councils. In a report published just last month, COSLA revealed that “In the last 5 years, the Scottish budget has reduced in real terms by 0.4%. Local Government budgets have reduced 10 times that much by 4%”. Worse than that, Edinburgh has one of the worst funding settlements in Scotland. Indeed, the total budgeted funding (revenue & capital) for Edinburgh in 2011/12 was £872.5m, whereas in 2017/18 is was just £790.3m!
Despite the severity of these cuts, Edinburgh is expecting to have to make £106m of “savings” (around 10% of its annual budget) over the next 5 years and we have a Council Leader who is simply unwilling to oppose them. Indeed, he welcomed the budget settlement last year despite the dark picture it painted for councils.
Although Edinburgh can’t avoid cuts imposed by MSPs, as a Councillor I feel that we all have a duty to ensure the most vulnerable people are protected from their impact. Over the past few months we have seen how the cuts driven changes to waste collection have brought significant distress to some of the most vulnerable people in Edinburgh – we have a duty to ensure that unintended consequence is not repeated in the 2019/20 budget.
Within that context, like you, I have concluded that closing public toilets across Edinburgh will be felt most by older people, young families, people with disabilities and those with certain health conditions. These are exactly the people we should be protecting from the Scottish/UK Government’s cuts.
The Council Leader recently claimed that public toilets are generally in need of substantial investment and are the focus of crime. He has clearly never had to “spend a penny” in Colinton. As you know, the village benefits from a relatively new purpose built facility which is fully accessible and well used (not least by bus drivers and tourists). Council Officers have confirmed to me that there are no problems with them, and the Police have also informed me they can find no record of crime or anti-social behaviour linked to them.
The reported proposal to close the majority of Edinburgh’s public toilets may only be equivalent to ~0.025% of the Council’s budget, but the true cost to our Capital will be huge.
Rather than slashing public toilet budgets, we should be improving these facilities across the city. I’d much rather Edinburgh was a place that was known for having clean and fully accessible public toilets where nature’s needs can be met and babies can be changed, rather than a place where men (mostly) were too often seen urinating in public.
Last year I was able to work with others to have cuts which would have had a significant impact on my Ward removed from the budget (not least a significant reduction in Library opening hours) and have the impact of others lessened. I shall take the same approach to dealing with the threat to public toilets. Whilst I agree that a full consultation is needed before any cut is considered fully, I hope that this proposal is simply flushed away long before that.
I am more than happy to work with Councillors from the four other political groups on this important issue as I recognise that normally 2-3 parties are needed to block/pass any motion.
Please let me know if you don’t receive a satisfactory response to the questions you have raised.