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Campaigners on Islay are demanding the reopening of the island’s public toilets – and those throughout Scotland – as a vital step to keep people free from infection.
Argyll and Bute Council has closed all its public loos, describing them as ‘falling into the lowest priority service area’ – and has refused to reopen them. But islanders are adamant that as cafés, pubs and hotels are closed, it is vital that Bowmore and Port Ellen’s public toilets reopen, as a minimum.
They argue that for workers such as delivery drivers, bin-men and road workers an available toilet is a necessity, especially during a health crisis.
Jenni Minto of Islay Resilience said: ‘We are disappointed in the council’s negative response – especially as Audit Scotland’s recent Best Value Assurance Report recommends that the council should engage with communities to understand and address their concerns to better support them.
‘Nothing is as important at the moment than the health of the community. To keep people safe the toilets need to be reopened.’
But Argyll and Bute Council’s response to the islanders’ request fell on deaf ears, with Jim Smith, head of roads and infrastructure, responding: ‘Local authorities have no statutory requirement to provide public toilets, so these are not considered to be an essential service at this time.’
In an email to the islanders he revealed that his department has categorised its services ‘with public toilets falling into the lowest priority service area’.
After the refusal to reopen the toilets, Janet Waterworth of the Islay Resilience Group complained to the council’s chief executive, Pippa Milne, that the low priority given to public toilets ‘does not sit comfortably with me or any of our volunteers – who are often out of their own home and access to facilities for up to five hours – due to the remote areas that we cover’.
She added: ‘How anyone who is working out on the road all day – like social care team staff, or carriers doing deliveries – can cope is unthinkable.’
Ms Minto and retired local doctors Chris Able and Sandy Taylor have asked the Scottish Government to make it a temporary legal responsibility, as part of the COVID-19 emergency response, for all councils throughout Scotland to keep public toilets open that ‘as a matter of health and hygiene’.
In an email to Ms Milne they questioned what evidence had been used to downgrade toilets to ‘lowest priority’ during a health crisis, and asked if members of the public or elected councillors had been consulted.
Argyll and Bute Council has told the campaigners that it does not have the staff to clean and police a ‘one in, one out’ policy – but the protesters point to Orkney Council which has overcome such problems and reopened toilets.
Ms Minto, Dr Able and Dr Taylor have outlined to Argyll and Bute Council how this was done: ‘Put a turn buckle lock on the inside of the main door to the toilet with a notice announcing clearly “one person at a time – lock the door behind you – observe social distancing if queuing is necessary” and a public health notice on the inside reminding people to “keep the toilet clean and tidy for other users and wash your hands before and after using the toilet”.’
They believe that there is no evidence that cleaning public toilets is a risk for the cleaner or that any special precautions need to be taken, aside from the usual measures of gloves, hand-washing and disinfectant.
They argue: ‘Thousands of people all over the country are cleaning the inside of shops and supermarket freezer doors, for example – just think how many surfaces are touched every day in the Co-op by all the customers. There is nothing especially risky about toilets.’