Public Toilets and how they are liable for Business Rates

It might seem daft, but public toilets are liable for business rates (officially called Non-domestic Rates NDR), even though they are not something I would call a businesses, more of a service. Cornwall Council has previously lobbied Central Government over the unfair burden of charging business rates on public toilets. No matter if they are run by a Town and Parish Council, a community group, or Cornwall Council.

The good news is the Government has tweaked the legislation and will give local council’s the powers to award discretionary relief from April 2018 under the Local Government Finance Bill. I welcome this.

However, there is a sting in tail. On one hand the Government allows Cornwall Council not to levy this charge, but it will be the local authority who have to pick up funding shortfall in funding.

Applying these powers to the public toilets that are the responsibility of Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall would create a £156,000 funding shortfall for the Council.  If the powers were applied to all public toilets in Cornwall, the shortfall would increase to around £250,000. That’s a lot of money to lose.  I believe the Government should compensate local authorities for any such funding shortfall. It has done previously with other business rate relief measures.

In the past, Cornwall Council collected business rates  and sent them to the Government, who in turn gave the Council a percentage back. Then, we collected and kept part of the NDR with the rest going to the Government. Now the Council keeps all, but gets no grant from the Government.

 

Harbour Road Public Toilets Reopen

The public toilets along Harbour Road have now reopened. These toilets are now under the stewardship of Porthleven Town Council who will be responsible for opening/closing, cleaning and maintenance. A full refurbishment of these toilets will be carried out later this year.

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Of course in an ideal world, Cornwall Council should be running these toilets and others like them. However, it is not an ideal world, and rather than see these toilets closed and the building sold off, the town council took them over. Credit should go to the town council for this action.

Porthleven Town Council to take over Harbour Rd Toilets

Porthleven Town Council is set to take over the ownership and running of the toilets near the Institute on Harbour Road. This is because Cornwall Council decided to stop funding them, and therefore if no-one took them over, they would close and the building would be sold-off.

I am pleased the town council has decided to run these toilets, as to lose them would be terrible for Porthleven. As part of the deal, the town council will be given for a nominal fee (£1) the freehold of the toilets. These toilet will also have a full refurbishment to the standard which the town council is happy with. That means the town council will be operating a ‘as new’ facility. Funding the Harbour Rd toilets will also have a very minimal impact on the town council’s precept.

The remaining toilet at Shute Lane will remain in the control of Cornwall Council who will continue to fund them. Though I very much doubt it will get a makeover. However, these toilets were also offered to the town council on the same terms as Harbour Rd, but also with a one-off grant of around £8,000.

You might think this was a good deal, but I do not think it was, and I gave my recommendation that the town council should not take them over. The main reason is the grant was just for one years running cost, after that the town council would have to fund them via the precept. That is a lot of money just to add onto the precept.

It would also be pointless to take them over as Cornwall Council has deemed the Shute Lane toilets strategically important, and therefore will continue to fund them. So what would be the point in the town council taking them over when they are safe from closure.

It might have been more logical if Cornwall Council offered a better financial settlement, but they would not. This is despite the Town Clerk and myself highlighting this and asking for a better settlement. Just offering a one year grant is in my view very shortsighted. Maybe if they offered five, then maybe the deal to take the toilets over would have been more attractive to the town council. After all, Cornwall Council will still have to find the £8,000 a year. Yes it would have been more money in the short-term, but in years six and beyond, Cornwall Council would have reduced a liability.

In the meantime, the town council will be meeting with representatives from Cornwall Council to start the handover process and agree on the schedule for the refurbishment.

Porthleven Town Council held to ransom on Public Toilets

At the August meeting of Porthleven Town Council the issue of the two Public Toilets in the Port was discussed. My view is Cornwall Council is off-loading these facilities in a rather tactless way. In simple terms Cornwall Council is saying; ‘take them over or we will close them’. It is pretty hard for a town or parish council to negotiate with both hands tied behind their backs while having to hop.

I should say in fairness to Cornwall Council, they have agreed to give a two-year grant to Porthleven Town Council to ‘help’ with the running. This is the running costs of one toilet, plus 50% of the cleaning cost. It should be noted that this is only for one toilet, as the other gets no grant.  They will hopefully refurbish the toilets to a standard that is agreeable to the town council, and not just Cornwall Council. There will be a yearly rent of £1, too.

The two options of take them over or one will close is a hard one for the town council. If the town council takes them over residents will see an increase in the town council precept to fund them, while not seeing a reduction in the overall Council Tax set by Cornwall Council. A double tax. If it does not take them over, one will shut for good.

To combat this difficult situation I have been talking to various people at Cornwall Council to try to highlight the importance of both these toilets remaining open, and pointing out it should not be the town council who has to run them. The response I got was ‘there is no money to pay for them’ or the often wheeled out  justification is ‘they are not statutory’. Car parking is not statutory, but you do not see a rush to off-load these!

I wish it was simple just to call Cornwall Council bluff and see if they will close them. However, that would not achieve anything but seeing a toilet close. That will harm Porthleven for both residents and visitors. The one earmarked for closure is the Harbour Road toilet. A Petition could be started, but again that will be most likely treated with a ‘thank you and next….’

The town council is now trying to get the best grant and refurbishment it can. Once this has been agreed in principle, the town council will be holding a mini-referendum on the proposals to the residents and business of Porthleven. That way, the town council will know it has either the backing or not. Then the town council can decide accordingly.

What should the town council to do? Take them both over or allow at least one to close?

Porthleven, the Town Council and the Titanic

It is never a dull moment at any Porthleven Town Council meeting and last nigh’ts meeting was a very good one. The police report had half the council breakdown in fits of laughter when the mayor read out the report which contained a few unintentional hilarious comments. Two of these were ‘crime of a stolen statue – undetected’ and ‘tidy search of a draw’. 
The mayor brought forward a motion for a plaque to be erected in Porthleven in memory of two Porthleven brothers who lost their lives when the Titanic sank in 1912. The whole of the council thought this was a great idea and fully supported the mayor in his motion. The location of the plaque is still to be decided, but it is hoped it will be in a prominent place in Porthleven. Amazingly a niece and nephew of these brothers still live in the town. The town council fittingly saw that these two people should be part of the unveiling process.
The public toilet issue still rumbles on because even though the leader has made it clear in e-mails and statements in council meetings on this process being postponed until proper consultation has taken place, Cornwall Council have not sent any form of communication to the town and parishes. Not even a simple e-mail. I believe this is very poor, as Cornwall Council should have sent letters/emails to all town and parish councils.  I will be writing to the Portfolio Holder asking for this to be rectified at once. 
A working party will be formed by the council to look into organising some sort of celebration for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This will not just be a council action, as the council will be asking organisations/committees, or individuals in Porthleven if they wish to take part in organising this event. So if you or your organisation wants to help, contact the town clerk, or me. 
Lastly, the town council has a new Councillor. It was hoped there would be an election, but 10 people did not write in to call for one, so this position has been filled by co-option. Two people applied, but one application was submitted late, so had to be discounted. The interested applicant had a short interview last night and the whole council voted in favour to accept this application. I would like to welcome Barbara Powell as the new Porthleven Town Councillor. 

My Amendment is Defeated – Just

You will more than likely be in for a treat of two blogs today on the budget meeting at Cornwall Council. The first one will be on my amendment to reduce the Leader Contingency Budget in the 2012/13 period from £600,000 to £250,000. Currently it is set at £1 million. 
My amendment would transfer £175,000 to the transportation (buses) budget and the same amount to public toilet funds. I believe these two areas are under huge budgetary pressures. You only got to look at the recent outrage when 114 toilets were earmarked to lose their funding. Bus routes are also under threat with the reduction to the amount paid by the council to the bus companies to help pay for concessionary fares. (reduction from 75% of the cost to 50%). The overall budget bus budget is likely to be reduced from £3.9m to £3.1m. This will have an affect on bus routes.
I blogged about some of the areas this money has been used HERE, but is it right this budget funds the Tall Ships race £100,000? Or the Local Enterprise Partnership Board (LEP) to the tune of £40,000 for travel expenses, subsistence and the Chairmans honorarium? Surely the latter should be funded out of the LEP’s own money and the former out of the economic development pot. 
Other areas funded are establishing a Cornish Focus Paper (Census) to the tune of £20,000, or the Olympic Torch for £80,000. It is not that I am against some of this funding or the other areas already funded (but I have not yet listed), but the budget could be used better. Hence my amendment. 
As for the vote, my amendment was narrowly defeated by 51 against, 47 for. It was interesting to note that the entire Conservative party present voted against this proposal. I shall be reminding them when they complain about cuts to these services for lack of money, when they had the chance to put in more money into these two areas. 
Still only losing by 4 votes shows many believed in what I was trying to do. 

Loo Turn on Public Toilets

Today, at Cornwall Council’s Cabinet the Leader announced that the proposed plans to cut funding to 114 public toilets will not go ahead. This great news, but there is a note of caution. These proposals are only dropped for a year. As the Leader said today not progressing this plan now will give time for proper consultation and equality impact assessments to be carried out.

Amazingly £1 million has been found to carry on providing this service during the year. You have to ask yourself how does the council suddenly find this amount of money when it has to, or needs to. Why can’t it just provide it in the first place. However, if there really is no spare money, what other service has lost out?

Granted some town and parish councils may wish to take on providing this service and should be allowed to. But, no council should be forced to take on this, or any other provision/service if it does not want to. This is the point that has upset so many town and parish council as in Porthleven’s case it felt it was being force to take them on. As sort of do it or else.

I really think this change is down to the very vocal campaign, by Cornwall Councillors, the town and parish councils and the general public. There is also the ‘rumour’ that many in the ruling party would have voted against the budget if these plans were in it. Maybe this is the real reason why it was pulled? If not, people power has really worked. As I can honestly say I have not met anyone who was in favour of the now dropped cuts.

As for my petition, this will now not go ahead because on the face of it those objecting to the plans have carried the day and it would be best to keep this plan for when it is needed.

Lastly, I have to say lessons have to be learnt from this because there has been so many mixed messages on these plans being pulled/not being pulled/letters being sent out. It has hardly inspired confidence in this whole process.

Still, overall a good result.

Porthleven Town Council and the Public Toilets

Last Thursday, Porthleven Town Council met to discuss various issues one being the ‘offer’ from Cornwall Council to take over the running of the two public toilets in Porthleven. Knowing Porthleven Town Council I know they do not like being threatened. (see previous blog HERE).

The Mayor started off by saying the tone of the letter was very curt, and if the tone of ‘take it or leave it’ was consultation, then it is a disgrace. The debate by the town council covered how much extra monies would have to be set aside if they took them on.

Also, the council were very concerned by the costs provided by Cornwall Council on running these facilities; they just did not add up. The council contacted a cleaning company to get a rough cost on how much cleaning these two toilets once per day. It was £1000 more than Cornwall Council had quoted.

Maintenance was another area that had a figure plucked from the sky. I know this because it took me quite a while to get the many defects fixed; this added up to more than the £1000 quoted by Cornwall Council.

With all these views aired a vote was taken by the town council on the ‘offer’ from Cornwall Council. The town council voted unanimously to reject the offer because of the information provided was felt to be inaccurate, and Cornwall Council is forcing this service onto town council’s without any consultation.

This vote of rejection allowed me to present my motion of a petition for Cornwall Council to carry on funding of the two public toilets. The motion is as follows:

“We the undersigned believe that Cornwall Council should continue to fully
fund the two public toilets in Porthleven, located at Shute Lane and Harbour
Road”.

This motion was fully supported by the town council who totally agreed with the points. This petition will be launched at the end of this week, and will carried out under Cornwall Council own petition rules. Click HERE for those rules. Basically anyone can sign the petition as long as they live, work, or study in Cornwall (including children and young people) and the petition has at least 25 signatures. This petition will also be available online.

Maybe now Cornwall Council will listen and change its mind to cutting the funding to 114 toilets in Cornwall.

Holding a Gun to the Head on Public Toilets

Right, just when I thought there was a ceasefire on hostilities to the proposed cuts in funding to 114 public toilets as blogged about HERE. It seems whilst everyone was waiting to see what happen; letters were being sent to town and parish council basically saying take them over or else. Don’t believe me, read for yourself the letter sent to Porthleven Town Council (the first part of the letter is the standard introductions).

“The outcome of this review is that Cornwall Council can offer a grant for the public conveniences that have been identified to be “Retained”. Unfortunately, those public conveniences that are not on the retained list will no longer be funded”


Hang on a minute, I thought no decision had been made, but this letter says they ‘will no longer be funded’.

“The grant will consist of 100% funding for the current fixed costs and a 50% grant for the current cleaning costs. From our discussions with a number of Town and Parish Councils it is believed that locally managed cleaning would be significantly less expensive than the current service provided”

Interestingly, there is no mention of how long this grant will last for apart from in a small spreadsheet which says 2011/12. Also, is it telling we must pay a lower wage to someone locally managed? Does this mean locally managed people work for less, or Cornwall Council pays too much?


Now, for the grant offered:

Shute Lane

  • 2010/11 costs £8342.13
  • 2011/12 amended costs £8,342.13 (includes cleaning costs £2,886.67)
  • Grant available £6,898.80
Harbour Road
  • 2010/11 costs £5,524.07
  • 2011/12  No funding
  • Grant available £0

 The current funding of two toilets equates to £13,866.20, but Cornwall Council wants Porthleven to do this for £6,898.80. A drop of  nearly £7k. This is just the running costs and does not take into account any maintenance or worse damage.  It gets worse in the next part of the letter.

While, the overall grant will remain constant, there maybe some flexibility on which public conveniences in your area are retained and those for which funding will cease. Unfortunately, if your council cannot agree these terms, further reductions in the provision of public conveniences will be likely.

Whoa…. Have I read this wrong; or does it really say take this offer or else?  The letter is finished off with the coup-de-grace:
This is our final offer and 

This proposal is subject to final ratification by Cabinet on 14th December 2011.

Now, Porthleven Town Council has to decide what it is going to do.  Either telling Cornwall Council where to go, or work up a budget that includes the missing running costs, and any additional costs that running a toilet will need. Considering the town council generally only meets once a month on the second Thursday; which is TODAY! It could (and properly have to) arrange another extraordinary meetings to deal with this fast-ball from Cornwall Council.
Tonight’s meeting of the town council is likely to be very interesting…..

Public Toilet (Cabinet) Paper Pulled?

It seems the Leader of Cornwall Council has seen the light and flushed (for the time being) this outrageous proposal to cut funding to 114 public toilets down the U-bend. I believe this is down to the huge pressure from Cornwall Councillors and the public. Now this is not definite, but from the Leaders message sent to all Councillors it seems it has been pulled. In this message it quite clearly says:

“We had originally intended to discuss this report at the Cabinet meeting in November but have now agreed to defer the report to enable further consultation to take place before final decisions are made”

This at face value is great news, but hardly surprising due to the outrage this idea to stop funding the toilets has caused. This problem is what does further consultation mean? Will it be along the line of the “take them over or they close” to the parish and town councils? If any local council does agree to take them over; will there be the right financial package in place? Many local council are going to need real convincing if they take them over.

What happens if those small local councils don’t take them on? Will Cornwall Council still fund them? That, is the 64,000 dollar question, and one will be asked over and over again. Just because they are not statutory functions of Cornwall Council does not mean they should just off-load them, or worse, close them. From talking to many people in my area they believe Cornwall Council should fund them.

They also believe money should be set aside to actually keep them up to a decent standard. It is a very good point, but lets win the battle of keeping them open first, before we move on to this issue.

Lets see what this lull brings before the battle recommences.

(btw sorry for all the toilet puns in the first paragraph. I just could not resist them)

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