Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Council Budget (6) - Public toilets

When I originally became a councillor on the old Borough Council in the 90’s the regular joke made by friends was that my time would be taken up in dealing with the administration of public toilets, removing dog poo and organising the public allotments. The situation was not helped when my first committee chair was as Chair of the Allotments Working Party! Obviously the reality was far from this although the issues of public toilets and dog excrement were discussed reasonably regularly over the years.

The budget proposals for toilets once again highlight the contradictions and inconsistencies with the thinking of the current Administration and in particular it’s Leader, Independent party member Ron Woodley.

I have previously expressed my concerns about the apparent pro-east bias in cabinet and the potential contradiction of a council Leader who also leads one of the more influential residents associations in the town which represents the Burgess Estate. It is about fairness and the importance of ensuring that decisions are not only fair but are seen to be fair.

We have the decisions on Priory and Shoebury flood defences where it is difficult to see how the appearance of fairness can be maintained bearing in mind the stance previously adopted by Cllr Woodley and/or BERA.

In the budget we then have the stance on public toilets. The proposals include savings of £10K by closing toilet facilities at East Beach and £30K by closure of toilets in Hamlet Court Road, Ness Road and Southchurch Road but increased corporate borrowing of £190,000 to refurbish the toilets at the bottom of Thorpe Hall Avenue, a scheme previously supported by Ron’s ward colleague Mike Stafford. I don’t know what if any revenue implications will arise from this refurbishment.

Whatever the merits of this block it shows that Ron is happy to borrow for a scheme that he or his mates like. This proposal not only undermines his previous stance on borrowing but also suggests priority is being given to Thorpe with an inevitable perception of unfairness. I am surprised that Ron’s non indie cabinet colleagues are content with this.

In the meantime shutting public toilets without adequate alternative facilities is never good, particularly when linked as in this budget with reductions in the spend on the waste collection and street cleaning contract, abandonment of textile recycling collection and removal of litter bins.

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