"Lessons to be learned" after council signed 35-year deal for bereavement services

By Gareth Dennison | 02/06/2017

'Lessons to be learned' after council signed 35-year deal for bereavement services
Rotherham Crematorium

MISTAKES were made in outsourcing bereavement services on a 35-year contract, a senior councillor has admitted.

Rotherham Borough Council agreed the lengthy deal with Dignity Funerals in 2008, but is unhappy at the fees charged for services.
Talks have been held in which Labour and UKIP members put across concerns over Dignity’s management of the contract.

Cllr Emma Hoddinott, Cabinet member for waste, roads and community safety, said: “I have to say I’m extremely disappointed we have had no movement yet from Dignity.

“I’m concerned our fees are higher than the national average and we are looking to them to do something about that.

“I think there are definitely lessons to be learned about entering such a long contract with very few safeguards. For example, we can’t control the fees that Dignity put in.

“It’s a difficult situation for us to be in. We need to work across parties to make sure Dignity is aware of our concerns and residents’ concerns about how they are managing this contract and how the fees are above national average.”

In 2015, the Advertiser told how Saturday burial services increased 312 per cent to £824 and cremations rose seven per cent to the same price.

Opposition leader Cllr Allen Cowles, UKIP, blamed the Labour group for agreeing the deal and said residents could expect to be “ripped off” for the rest of the contract.

He added: “I know there have been discussions. Dignity have made it quite clear that they have a contract for 35 years and they will charge the market rate and residents can expect to pay whatever that is.”

Dignity said its £3.5 million improvements since 2008 had included expensive equipment to comply with new environmental laws.

A spokesman said: “Under Dignity’s management, fees at Rotherham Crematorium have increased annually at a rate very similar to the national average at local authority crematoria, according to research by the BBC.

“Funeral affordability is important to us. In November we introduced a direct cremation service that costs £499 and from June 5 the 9am service will be available at a discounted £802.

“To compare our fees accurately with other crematoria, it is important to note that our fee includes components that other crematoria may charge for separately. 

“Our fee also includes use of the chapel, provision of music, scattering of ashes, removal certificate, ashes container and storage of ashes.”

He added: “Our fee is for a 45-minute service, whereas many other crematoria only offer half-hour services. 

“Our longer service meets growing demand from families to personalise the funeral and mourners tell us they like the additional time as they don’t feel rushed or ‘on a conveyor belt’.”

Dignity announced plans earlier this year to extend the crematorium, including adding a mezzanine floor.

The spokesman said: “We are committed to continual investment but it’s worth remembering that, in 2008, the council had neither the cash flow or financial reserves to comply with impending legislation.”

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