Dignity fines hit £475,000

East Herringthorpe's cemeteryEast Herringthorpe's cemetery
East Herringthorpe's cemetery
DIGNITY was fined another £147,000 for cemetery failings during 2023 – taking the total to more than £475,000.

Rotherham Council has admitted not enough attention was paid in the early years of the 35-year contract signed in 2008, and has charged for failings since April 1, 2022.

There were fines of £328,290 for the year ending March 2023, with another £147,180 following from April to November last year.

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The charges are levied against key performance targets relating to issues like grounds maintenance, health and safety, quality of roads and pathways, and the digitisation and publication of burial records.

Dignity was called to RMBC’s Improving Places select commission in December to provide an annual report for councillors.

But the firm’s documents did not include figures for the number of fines, while three of the 11 action points which were “red” in the red/amber/green scale in paperwork had been moved out just before the meeting.

Cllr Sue Ellis said it was an “obvious disappointment” that elected members had not been informed of the late changes.

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And Cllr Charlotte Carter said: “On the performance failings, I think it’s a fairly fundamental thing missing from the report detail on the financial penalties that have been charged. I think in future reports that are brought to Improving Places, we should insist that these details are included.”

Cllr Alan Atkin pointed out that Dignity’s five-year service development plan included an incorrect map of how Wath Cemetery will be enlarged.

The Wath ward member, who chairs the planning board, said: “You’ve got a plan of the cemetery expansion. That’s not the plan that was approved. Residents objected because of the trees, and there was an amended plan which was approved.

“I don’t want people going to your report, seeing this and thinking: ‘Hang on, that’s not what was passed.”

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Meanwhile, an independent review of bereavement services has also been promised by RMBC. Mohamed Omer, founder of East London’s Gardens of Peace cemetery, pulled out at the last minute and this work has still to be carried out.

Bal Nahal, RMBC’s head of legal services, said: “The consultant who was employed to undertake the review said he couldn’t actually do it, so we have had to go back out to find someone who is suitably qualified.

“It will take place [in 2024], subject to us finding someone suitable.”

Richard Shepherd, Dignity’s business leader for Rotherham said: “It was apparent from the historical charges and failures that things needed to improve, and myself and my team have been working hard over the last six months to clear each contractual element and outstanding action point, while also engaging with the community.”

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Mr Shepherd said Dignity now being fully privately owned would mean more scope for investments.

The crematory equipment will be improved at Rotherham as part of a £1.5 million project by the company, and £300,000 has been earmarked for pathway and infrastructure improvements at Masbrough, Wath and Moorgate cemeteries, following similar work at other sites in the borough.

Other changes have included grave covers for the Muslim burial section at East Herringthorpe, which allows graves to be dug in advance to meet short-notice requirements, while a 35-year plan has been handed to the council to help guide future cemetery expansions.

“I will be the first to admit that we still have a way to go,” said Mr Shepherd. “But hopefully RMBC and the community can see the inroads and improvements being made.”