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Your loo or your library?

A Suffolk village is asking if it should close the public toilets to help meet the costs of maintaining services, including the library, which are being funding cuts by the county council.

Debenham parish council is consulting the 2,000 people who live there on whether the toilets should be closed, permanently or for a time, to release funds for other services, deemed essential.

The parish council says county council spending cuts are likely to have serious consequences for our village in possibly reducing key services that we currently enjoy.

Consultation forms are being distributed to every household and responses are also being collected through the website.

I live in Debenham (declaration of interest) and our council is faced with a dilemma. Its council tax precept is already considerably higher than the surrounding surrounding parishes and it is testing the views of the electorate. It has not given a ultimatum quite so stark as my headline might suggest.

All the comments posted on the village website so far are in favour or retaining public toilets in Debenham, which some describe as a small town, rather than as a village. We have a good selection of shops as well as the library, secondary and prinary school, and leisure centre.

A poll on the website which has had 50 responses so far of which 73% are against the toilets being closed. Of the remainder 19% are in favour of closure and 7% for temporary closure.

Headlines in Suffolk this week have said libraries are safe, but the problem has not gone away. A 30% cut in county funding is still planned. The preferred option to be discussed by the Cabinet next week includes this:

Local independent providers may be local town, parish or district councils, or community organisations. They would be sub- commissioned and supported by the organisation through an agreement – a type of ‘sub-contract’

The county’s scrutiny committee has looked at the issue and is recommending that “any claims on secondary [double] taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk.

It is difficult to reconcile this recommendation with the suggestion that some parish councils should contribute to libraries and other services being cut by the county.

The introduction to the consultation on the Debenham village web site says::

You will no doubt be aware of the various cost reductions and savings which the Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council are seeking to achieve as part of their plans to reduce their budget.

This is likely to have serious consequences for our village in possibly reducing key services that we currently enjoy.

Your Parish Council is concerned that this will place greater onus on the village to fund elements previously funded by the Suffolk County Council. With this in mind the Parish Council is reviewing its current expenditure to ascertain if there are any areas where cost savings can be made that would assist in funding such services should this become necessary. Current areas of concern include but are not restricted to, the Library/ Resource Centre and the Youth Club/High Suffolk Centre.

The public toilets have been subject to review by the Parish Council as a possible area of cost saving. The cost per year of the public toilets accounts for approximately 15% of the Parish precept and, whilst desirable to have, could be closed either permanently or on a temporary basis to release funds for other deemed essential services to the village.

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