MUCH AS we all have an opinion about the Government’s long-running austerity programme, it’s rare that anyone suggests that it may have produced one or two silver linings.

I am firmly in the camp that believes public spending could not have continued unchecked at its extravagant and unaffordable levels – but I am equally certain that every reduction should have been, and should continue to be, carried out with enormous care and attention to detail, the utmost compassion and the smallest possible effect on the least fortunate in society. The essential re-engineering of costs, particularly at local authority level, has prompted a good deal of creativity, forcing councils to think long and hard about how they use council-taxpayers’ money and there are many examples where the solutions have provided some importance balance and, indeed, better ways of doing things.

One emerging example, I venture to suggest, is the running of public toilets. Last summer, I wrote a lengthy article about the growing dismay in many quarters over the closure of many of these vital local amenities. I cited a reader’s letter to the Telegraph & Argus – one example among many – which said: “The proposed closure of the public toilets in Bingley town centre shows a complete disregard for the requirements of public comfort and decency. This ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude is an arrogant disregard of a public need.”

The British Toilet Association, which campaigns for better facilities, estimated that thousands of public toilets had closed in the last 10 years or so across the UK. It said: “This is a basic human function and we need to have a greater level of adequate provision for everyone and anyone who has a sudden urge to find relief when they are away from their normal residence… we don’t want people being forced to urinate in the streets.”

Bradford Council, like most local authorities, had placed public loos on their hit-list, announcing plans to close seven across the district, in Saltaire, Bingley, Baildon, in both Brook Street and Riverside in Ilkley, and in both Central Park and near the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, to save £144,600 in annual running costs. I ventured to suggest at the time that the proposal being put forward by Ilkley Parish Council, to increase its local precept and pick up the tab for keeping the lavatories open, could be the model for others to follow.

Fast forward 10 months and the picture has changed dramatically. Ilkley’s public loos are, indeed, now under the control of the Parish Council, with those in Haworth in the process of being transferred. Bingley Town Council is also working on plans to take over the town’s toilets and convert part of the building into their new headquarters.

At the weekend, Baildon’s public toilets were officially re-opened with a good deal of celebration after undergoing something of a makeover, including some fine murals on walls and doors by local artist Jenny Tribillon. Some measure of the community’s support came in the words of Councillor Gill Dixon: “We think it is a very well-loved facility and we’re very proud of our ‘Love our Loos’ logo. It’s fantastic, we’re really thrilled and I think everyone is amazed - before it was very bare and now it looks really great.”

There can be little doubt that those public conveniences will be better cared for and managed by the local community which makes the most use of them, especially as they also pay for them directly through local taxes. And therein lies my point: the silver lining in this particular cutback is that genuinely local facilities have been returned to the people who are best placed to look after them and have a vested interest in their upkeep.

I certainly wouldn’t advocate it for every council service – many are far better run across a wider district and more efficiently because of economies of scale – but where communities can handle the scale and costs involved and add real value to an asset, surely that’s a better outcome for all concerned?

* THE LATEST research initiative by the National Science+ Media Museum to find out how it can play a bigger role in the Bradford district is a brilliant one.

The passion and pride felt by local people towards their very own national museum played a huge part in the T&A’s Stop the Cut campaign to save it from threatened closure, and much improved visitor figures since it was revamped have been testament to that. This new project can only help to endear it more while embedding it further into Bradford’s community and it deserves whole-hearted support.

* APART from a good movie, all I want when I go to the “pictures” is a comfortable seat, a relaxed environment, clean facilities and the availability of some nice refreshments.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the official opening of The Light cinema at The Broadway last week and, on the evidence of that visit, I’d say it supplies everything I need in spades. What’s more, it felt like a grown-up experience; the six screens all have luxurious reclining seats and you can buy alcoholic drinks to enjoy while you watch.

The fact I can now stretch out and chill while taking in the latest releases on the big screen (with cheap parking nearby) is a big draw. I’ve no doubt, when word gets around, the only problem will be getting a ticket!

* See The Light feature in tomorrow’s T&A.