Friday 25 June 2010

Cems and Crems

I didn't think cemeteries and crematoria would be something I would ever get exercised about, but being a Councillor is indeed a strange job.

For some time, the bereavement services which Glasgow City Council provide have been making a loss. Partly, this is due to the opening of new services in neighbouring local authorities, as well as competion from private facilites. Energy and staff costs were also an issue.

At the same time, Glasgow charged a premium for people outside the city to use our crematoria, while these same facilities were getting a bit older and less attractive. People's needs weren't being taken into account either; I had been asked by a minister in my ward whether it would be possible to extend the time allocated for services at our crematoria from half an hour to forty-five minutes to allow families greater time to grieve.

The Council's response to this loss-making but important service was to explore whether a partnership with a private company might turn things around. I had asked a few times at Committee whether we could take any action to improve the service, but on each occasion, I was told that we had to await the end of negotiations.

Today, some two years or so after the Council decided to explore the partnership option, it was decided that this may not be the best deal. Negotiations continue, but at present, it looks like the private company wants all of the profit, the Council takes all of the risk, carries all of the investment, and provides an operating subsidy.

The interim solution is to make those from Glasgow and outwith the city pay the same (incidentally the higher rate!), and offer an extended 45-minute service. I'm really disappointed that it has taken the Council two years to do something they could have easily done in the beginning - continuing to lose money and probably discouraging people from using the facilities in the meantime.

It's important to listen to what people want, especially when the service is as sensitive as bereavement. For families who have been rushed through saying farewell, this decision has come too late; I hope a better service can be provided in future.

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