Local councils are loo-sers in latest business rates row

Business rates have been blamed for many woes over the years but I honestly didn’t see this latest accusation coming round the u-bend.

Apparently Ministers are being urged to exempt councils from paying business rates on public toilets, because campaigners say it is leading to the closure of facilities.

Parish and town councils argue that keeping conveniences open is vital for public health but rates are adding thousands of pounds to the cost of running them. They are pinning their hopes on legislation passed in 2007 that require ministers to consider removing barriers to the well-being of local areas.

Cranleigh Parish Council in Surrey failed earlier this year in an attempt to have business rates quashed on their facilities which cost them more than £2,200 annually in rates. Lakes Parish Council also waded into the debate, saying rates account for about a sixth of its annual budget.

The British Toilet Association – yes there is such a body and they even hold annual awards to find the UK’s best loos – has estimated that 40% of public conveniences have disappeared in the last decade.

Although councils are not required by law to provide toilets, they have discretionary powers and can charge for their upkeep. Public toilets have traditionally been liable for business rates in the same way as non-domestic premises such as shops and offices. Some MPs have historically opposed this, arguing that toilets are a public necessity and cannot be treated as commercial premises for the basis of business rates. Pleas that have, so far, fallen on deaf ears.

I am sure this debate will continue for some time but next time you pop into a local public convenience to spend a penny, it could be costing your local council thousands of pounds for the privilege.

The silly season seems to have started a bit early in the news cycle this year but if the BBC covered this story who am I to turn my nose up at it?

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