The Chair of the Environment Scrutiny Panel outlined the Panel's findings, conclusions and recommendations following a scrutiny investigation of the topic of Middlesbrough Council's Bereavement Services.
The Board considered the following recommendations of the Panel based on evidence submitted and conclusions reached:-
1. That, while recognising the Council's difficult financial position, the current approach of maintaining high standards of maintenance at the Council's cemeteries and crematorium is continued as far as possible in order to respect the sensitivity of this issue. While this may involve increasing fees and charges, account should be taken of the Council's Change Programme and the need to examine issues such as more efficient ways of working, or further reducing service standards in other areas.
2. That, in respect of headstone safety:
(a) The current approach is continued with costs of the necessary checks being met from cemetery and cremation fees and charges.
(b) That the position is examined in respect of the £16,000 budget that is created each year from fees and charges to deal with this issue - in particular whether this results in a budget surplus that could be used to offset, or reduce, potential increases in fees and charges.
3. That, once the private crematorium in Redcar and Cleveland becomes operational, its impact on the level of cremations at Middlesbrough Council's crematorium is closely monitored. While the Council's fees need to be competitive, services should continue to be provided at the highest possible standard, including the further use of technological innovations and improvements, as appropriate. Work should also be undertaken to review service provision to mitigate any future loss of income and to determine the possible implications of this.
4. That the position is noted in respect of:
(a) Increased burial and cremation fees due to the necessity of providing a Medical Examiner's Certificate.
(b) Work to reduce mercury emissions from the Council's crematorium.
(c) The availability of future burial land.
(d) Grave maintenance.
Members supported the recommendations and sought clarification on a number of areas.
Reference was made to activities undertaken by The Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery a group of people largely from the local community who wished to preserve and enhance the cemetery. Members enquired as to the existence of other similar groups and/or involvement of volunteers.
It was noted that no major concerns had been raised since the announcement of certain changes to cremation service times and other planned improvements at the Chapels. Such changes included a pilot scheme which commenced in September 2013 which provided the opportunity at St Hilda's Chapel of a 40 minute rather than the current 30 minute or double (1 hour) slot currently available for a funeral service.
ORDERED that the findings and recommendations of the Environment Scrutiny Panel be endorsed and referred to the Executive.