The council has messed up its management of the basic service of public toilet provision in Brighton & Hove and caused half of the city’s public toilet blocks to close over the winter months.
As with many of the problems at Brighton & Hove City Council, this is a self-inflicted problem, coming as a direct consequence of an ill-advised change in council policy.
The source in this instance was a decision by the Greens last year to cancel a 10-year contract signed in 2017 with a contractor for the cleaning and maintaining the city’s public toilet facilities and instead start running the service itself ‘in-house’. At the time of making the decision the Leader of the Council said that he preferred to ‘bring public toilets back in-house to ensure we have direct management and better accountability’, with the change effective from 1 February 2022.
This decision has quickly backfired: First there was a summer of reports from residents, visitors and the press about the poor state of seafront public toilets under the council’s new system. Now the council has said that it has been unable to employ enough staff to keep all its public toilet blocks open this year and that it has exceeded its public toilet budget for the year, partly due to agreeing to higher wages for the new ‘in-house’ staff it has had to employ.
The Green-Labour Council’s new in-sourced public toilet service has not even lasted a year before collapsing and the public once again is being asked to put up with the impact. This is a similar story to the Green-Labour council’s other ‘insourced’ ventures; its housing repairs department has not coped and accumulated a backlog of over 9,000 repairs in little over two years.
Brighton & Hove has an estate of 36 public toilet sites or ‘toilet blocks’ across the city. It has 57 facilities overall when community buildings such as libraries, Town Halls and community centres are factored in. The closures announced by the Council last week will impact 17 of the City’s estate of 36 public toilet blocks and be in effect through the entire winter season from 1 October through to Good Friday, 7 April 2023.
The public toilet closures over the next six months impact some of the most prominent toilet blocks in the most well-used public spaces and will have an impact. The list includes the Royal Pavilion Gardens, Stanmer Park, Queen’s Park and The Level.
The under-provision of the public toilet service is a significant failing of Brighton & Hove City Council and will be felt by many residents and visitors to the city. As local commentator Jean Calder wrote recently in a provocative piece, the lack of provision of public conveniences is also an equalities issue, as it impacts particularly on vulnerable groups who require close access to public conveniences.
Brighton & Hove City Council is classified as a high taxing local authority and charges some of the highest council tax rates in the country. Residents should be receiving a much better service for their high council tax contributions. They are already not receiving reliable rubbish collections or having their pavements cleared of weeds. This is another issue that will grate with many. Other Councils are managing their budgets better and keeping their public toilets open and in good condition all year round.
Cllr Robert Nemeth will be raising the matter at the upcoming full council meeting next Thursday 20 October. He will be asking whether any other measures will be put in place to compensate for the closures.
The longer term issue for the Council is why so many of the public toilet facilities are dilapidated and run down compared to other cities. There are three public toilet blocks that have been closed due to needing refurbishment works, including King’s Esplanade, Saltdean Undercliff and Station Road (Portslade). As Councillor Theobald has raised at Council Meetings, Toilet facilities such as the Royal Pavilion Gardens toilets are in desperate need of upgrade and very much antiquated.
The question of public toilets is one that the Green-Labour council has been reluctant to focus on in recent meetings, preferring to talk about national and international matters of little relevance to the council’s responsibilities. The Green-Labour Council voted against a Conservative attempt to take action on public toilets during the summer. Next next week at the Full Council meeting we will once again be again asking for the council to grasp the seriousness of the issue and outline a proper plan for upgrading public conveniences in Brighton & Hove to meet the needs of a modern tourism-focused city, including of course the notorious Pavilion Gardens toilets.