COUNCILLORS are pushing ahead with plans to privatise public toilets after being caught short with their income forecasts.

Officers at Scottish Borders Council predicted the recently-introduced charging at loos in the region would generate an annual income of around £280,000.

But at yesterday's full meeting of the local authority, members were told that the 30p charging boxes hadn't even collected £90,000 in the first year.

And they were urged to support a change of direction which would see a private firm brought in to operate the 27 toilets.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison, Executive member for Neighbourhoods and Locality Services, told us: “The first year of the public toilets review has provided the council with a lot of information for the long-term management of our public toilets.

"The option which will now be explored could be an innovative solution which has worked in other areas of the country by providing a variety of benefits, while helping the council to find out if underused facilities could be used in a better way.

“Early engagement took place with councillors ahead of this report, and further discussions will take place with councillors and communities in the next stage of the review.

"It is worth emphasising that no final decisions have been made."

Much of the shortfall in predicted income from charging is being blamed on users wedging open doors to prevent future charging, multi-usage by family members after paying a single charge, and 'Good Samaritans' who allow access to others.

Due to the income shortage, councillors were yesterday asked to consider five options - continue with a status quo, increase charging to 50p, introduce charging to the other 14 currently-free toilets, selected closures, and the agreed plan to farm out management to a third party.

Neighbourhood services manager Jason Hedley stated: “What is apparent from financial monitoring is that revenue income received to date is significantly less than the estimated levels that were forecast.

“A revised full year of income of £89,000 is now being estimated, a shortfall of some £179,000 which in turn was expected to also cover the cost of the implementation of Comfort Schemes.

“A significant body of anecdotal evidence around payment avoidance has been received and observed, including from elected members."

If a private company is brought in to operate the 27 charging facilities, councillors have been told that guarantees will be agreed in advance for all toilets to remain open.

And all staff, who are currently employed in cleaning and managing the public conveniences, will be transferred to the third-party provider.

Officers will carry out a procurement exercise before reporting back to the council with an update.