Our rural market towns are the beating heart of our districts. They provide a plethora of high-quality businesses to shop at, but they also act as key meeting points – allowing people to come together and spend time with each other at cafes, clubs and community groups.

Yet in recent years we’ve seen many of our once flourishing towns begin to stagnate. Sharp spikes in costs forced many shops to close their doors or raise their prices, at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. Once a shop is vacant, it ceases to pay business rates – and this can mean less money flowing to local councils.

There is another aspect of this decline that is less talked about but impacts our high streets: the lack of public toilets. Being able to access free public toilets is overlooked and undervalued - until you are caught short! Toilets provided by local government play a vital role in keeping our towns accessible. Knowing they are there is liberating for those who are older, or who have a disability. Being sure there is an accessible and convenient place to answer the call of nature gives people the confidence to shop locally.

Sadly, due to budget cuts from the Conservatives in Westminster, councils have been forced to cut back frontline services – often just to those 'statutory' services that they are legally required to provide. This has meant that the number of public toilets has reduced, despite their benefit to communities.

Recent research by the Liberal Democrats found that the provision of public toilets has dropped by 14 per cent in recent years - which local people will be able to testify to. Our councils are hard-pressed to balance the books, but this is another symptom of the economic decline and financial mismanagement that has been wrought on our country under this tired and out-of-touch Conservative Government.

We need to ensure our public toilets are protected. I welcome plans from East Devon District Council to open new public toilets in Honiton and want to see more of the same. I am calling on central Government in Westminster to add public toilets to the list of services that local authorities are obliged to provide. If necessary, they should set up a dedicated ‘Spend-a-Penny Fund’, to help rural councils provide the facilities we find ourselves needing. This is one way we can help revive our town centres and keep our high streets flourishing. It would help ensure everyone is able to fully access their local village and town centres, which are so central to rural life.