Monday, April 28, 2008

Public Inconveniences

Once, Great Britain proudly led the world in Public Lavatories. While the disgusting French were still relieving themselves in full view of the horses, our Victorian civic forebears ensured British citizens would never be more than a few yards from a magnificent marbled temple to Armitage Shanks, Doulton, or Twyford. The comfort and confidence that gave to the populace took us safely through two World Wars and even the dark days of poor Tim Henman.

Oh, but how things have changed. And they changed when our cash strapped local authorities discovered they have no statutory duty to provide such fripperies. Indeed, they have no statutory duty to provide any public lavs at all.

So all over the country they've been slamming lav doors closed, never to reopen. Nearly 20% of them closed just in the seven years from 1998. They have been flogged off for apartments or turned into wine bars, never to provide relief again.

It's all part of a grand plan for councils to withdraw from providing "free" services.

We may be paying £25bn pa in Council Tax, and loads more in general taxation, but it's not enough: unless councils can charge a user fee, the service will be closed. (Yes, I know: surely public lavs always used to charge, otherwise how did we get the expression "to spend a penny"? But for reasons somewhat unclear to me, that all got dropped with decimalisation).

The new alternative (apart from pissing in phone boxes and bus shelters, that is) is the Superloo. For that, councils can charge - up to 50p - and it's a lot easier to subcontract the whole nasty biz of keeping them clean and working.

The... er, bottom line is that this is yet another example of paying ever more money for ever more restricted public services.

And the final insult? The Superloo is French, mainly supplied and operated by a French company, JC Decaux: those civic Victorians will be turning in their graves.

PS Next time you're caught a bit short, you might also want to bear in mind this story: "A so-called 'superloo' exploded in a town centre when an electrical fault caused water to surge back into the toilet, blowing off its roof and lifting the pavement. Police were called to reports of an explosion in Hanley town centre, Stoke-on-Trent, at 0445 GMT on Wednesday. Officers found the roof ripped off and smoke coming from inside. A spokesman said "this could have been quite distressing if someone had been in there." Yes, I can imagine it could have been.

Mind how you go.

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