Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration Inc (CEM 17)

INTRODUCTION

  The Institute is the only organisation in the United Kingdom that supports individuals employed in the burial and cremation industry. This support is achieved by providing and developing an organisation, which sets ethical, professional and social standards for the management of burial, cremation and related services. The Institute is also the sole provider of appropriate education and training to ensure that these standards are achieved and maintained. Further information about the IBCA is shown at appendix A.

ENVIRONMENTAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CEMETERIES FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES

  Cemeteries and crematoria are essential local authority services that are attended by a third of the population each year. There are around 560,000 deaths per annum in England and Wales resulting in an estimated 405,000 cremations and 155,000 burials. Cemeteries cover over 16,400 acres of land with new burials taking up to 80 acres of additional space annually. Despite the scale of the burial and cremation service there is little interest or involvement from elected members and this results in a lack of top-level support at both central and local government levels.

  This major problem was highlighted by the Audit Commission in the 1989 report on "Managing Cemeteries and Crematoria in a Competitive Environment" (Occasional Paper No 8/1989) which concluded that there are "problems and opportunities for improvement. Many arise because the officers in charge of particular establishments are not sufficiently closely linked to senior officers or to the appropriate member's committee". The Audit Commission found that "the provision of these essential services does not always attract a great deal of member interest or involvement and can, in consequence, lack top-level support or the will to operate more efficiently and effectively . . . ". The situation has not changed and the environmental, historical and cultural significance of cemeteries for local communities will not be realised until this underlying problem is addressed.

  The Institute proposes that Burial Authorities be required and / or encouraged to:

    —  establish a Local Cemetery (and Crematorium) Management Board of elected Members to oversee the provision, operation and management of the cemetery (and crematorium) service;

    —  to produce Cemetery Management Plans addressing the issues of burial space, heritage and biodiversity;

    —  to ensure as a mandatory duty that adequate burial provision is made available.

THE CONDITION OF CEMETERIES

  The condition of our municipal cemeteries is generally very poor particularly if compared to the high standard achieved in cemeteries provided and managed by the War Graves Commission. This is an unacceptable state of affairs and should be addressed by Central Government facilitating the necessary improvements through a radical review of the provision, operation and management of municipal cemeteries to ensure that the highest standards are achieved.

  In particular, the heritage value of cemeteries is disappearing daily. This occurs primarily through neglected Victorian chapels, drainage systems and perimeter walls and gates. Such neglect often occurs even though the structures are listed. Memorials are seen as mowing impediments and destroyed, and the integrity of Victorian and Edwardian design and planting schemes ignored.

  Often, because the management of cemeteries is put into the hands of poorly paid grounds maintenance "experts", the community and cultural benefits available through a sensitively operated service are completely ignored. For instance, although the closure of burial chapels may appear, at first glance, just a matter of heritage loss, in reality, it also severely limits choice. For example, as a greater number of people no longer use a local church, or find church fees too expensive, a cemetery chapel offers an alternative, often at a much lower cost. Because the chapel is on site, it reduces the time input of funeral directors and holds down funeral expenses. Of no less significance, for the increasing number of atheists, Humanists and other groups of people such as Muslims and Chinese, etc, who have no meeting place, the cemetery chapel offers the only indoor location for a community based funeral service.

  Many authorities also enforce uniformity by restricting grave choice to lawn graves. Many members of the community dislike such graves; neither do they meet the needs of Muslims and other ethic groups. In not offering choice, artistic traditional memorials more suited to Victorian and Edwardian cemeteries are no longer allowed and the skills associated with these are lost. The fact that many people will actually pay higher fees for these services is not recognised by ignorant and unskilled managers (often those only skilled in ground maintenance).

  On the environment, the value of cemetery flora, lichens, trees and wildlife is rarely recognised, and only in exceptional cases are cemeteries managed through an Environmental Management Plan. The Church of England funded "Living Churchyard and Cemetery Project", our Institute promotes, is rarely adopted by local authorities, mainly due to the lack of necessary skills.

THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

  The Government should take a lead in determining a national strategic approach toward the disposal and care of our dead in cemeteries and crematoria. The importance and significance of the service should be reflected in the appointment of a Minister for Bereavement Services with a portfolio of responsibility covering death and disposal certification and registration, mortuary provision, burial, cremation, exhumation and funeral services generally.

Independent Inspector of Cemeteries and Crematoria

  The burial and cremation service sector needs a full-time inspectorate (ie at lease two permanent staff). Current arrangements are piecemeal and rely on goodwill rather than official regulation. These arrangements cannot hope to address the issues facing the service and much bad practice goes undetected. The public deserves better in this sensitive provision.

Other inquiries

  The Environment Sub-committee New Inquiry on cemeteries should consider the findings of the OFT inquiry into cemeteries and crematoria which is currently being undertaken and the potential outcomes of the Shipman inquiry (with particular regard to the Home Office's proposals for new arrangements for the registration and certification of deaths, burials and cremations.

Private Cemeteries

  The law relating to private cemeteries is hopelessly out of date (Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847). This should be reviewed and an effort made to equalise legislation in the same way as crematoria are governed.

LONG-TERM PLANNING FOR NEW CEMETERIES AND BURIAL SPACE

   The Government should place a duty upon Local Authorities to ensure that their area is adequately served by burial and cremation facilities. The reuse of old, abandoned graves should be permitted as proposed in the report "Planning for Burial Space in London—Policies for sustainable Cemeteries in the new millennium" (prepared by the London Planning Advisory Committee in August 1997).

  Government guidelines on the future care, use and management of old gravestones should be issued with a view to encouraging their preservation and where appropriate, reuse. Existing legislation on the care and management of memorial gravestones should be reviewed.

  The maximum period for which the exclusive right of burial may be sold by a Burial Authority should be reduced from 100 years to 50 years subject to the grave owner being permitted to extend the lease at regular intervals up to the maximum period permitted.

  The power granted to London Boroughs under section 9 of the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1976 to reclaim graves 74 years after the date of the last interment (provided there is space for at least one more interment should be extended to all burial authorities in England and Wales.

THE MANAGEMENT AND PROVISION OF CEMETERY SERVICES

  The Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order 1977 should be reviewed and updated to take account of the current and future needs of the service.

  Burial Authorities should be required to meet the minimum standards set out in the IBCA Charter for the Bereaved.

  Burial Authorities should be required:

    —  To excavate new graves to the maximum depth that can reasonably be achieved. This is necessary to extend the operation life of our limited cemetery space;

    —  establish reserve funds for the safe keeping of all income generated through the sale of exclusive rights of burial in order that the said income may be used to off-set future maintenance costs;

    —  appoint a suitably qualified and professional person who is a member of the IBCA to manage the cemetery (and crematorium) service.

  The DETR should ensure that Burial Authorities have the power to provide memorials and other funeral services they deem appropriate and to charge for the provision of such services. This is necessary to enable Burial Authorities to provide services considered to benefit the local community and also to encourage greater competition in the funeral services sector. In particular, innovative burial authorities are already having a significant impact upon consumers through woodland burial (which they introduced), biodegradable coffins, family arranged funerals, and highly transparent leaflets, often issued as part of a "funeral advisory service". These services also expand choice, and provide avenues for increasing income. The new "green burial" markets also supports the move towards sustainable and environmentally sound cemetery practice. It is through this work, mainly achieved by out Institute, that the UK is recognised as leading the world in the development of "green" funerals. This movement relies on transparent local services, which consult with local people and groups in order that such services are supported by, and not imposed on, communities.

  There is also a clear demand for "direct" burial or cremation services. These involve simply coffining the body and transporting it directly to the cemetery or crematorium for the funeral. Such arrangements ignore the conventional funeral practices of the "hearse led cortege", "viewing" and embalming and significantly reduce the input, and cost, of funeral directors. Unfortunately, because of local authority trading limitations, introducing services of this nature is extremely difficult. Restrictions of this nature severely limit innovation and choice, prevent the development of real competition, and prevent cemeteries obtaining new income to maintain their fabric.

  The Government should require all authorities and companies involved in the disposal of foetal remains to adopt the IBCA Code of Practice on the burial and cremation of foetal remains.

Cemetery Buildings

  One of the notable problems of decaying cemeteries is the run down and often derelict buildings, many fine examples of period architecture are disused and vandalised. Local Authorities should be given special powers to enable the sensible use of these facilities. For example, conversion to community uses, office space and studios for craftsmen. Funding should be provided to attract proposals. The Victorian Society should be commended for the excellent work in dealing with the heritage problems in cemeteries and consulted accordingly.

APPENDIX A

OBJECTIVES OF THE INSTITUTE

  The Institute has set the following 10 objectives:

  1.  To continually review the operation, management and structure of the Institute to enable it to achieve its purpose.

  2.  To be accountable to the Members through the democratic process.

  3.  To promote, develop and uphold the Institute's Code of Conduct and Code of Professional Practice for Members.

  4.  To promote the Institute's views and policies on the provision and professional management of cemeteries, crematoria and related services.

  5.  To set the ethical, professional and social standards for the management of burial, cremation and related services through specification of Best Working Practice.

  6.  To identify the training requirements needed to achieve and maintain the defined standards.

  7.  To develop and promote education and training programmes to meet the identified requirements.

  8.  To hold examinations and award qualifications of professional competence.

  9.  To provide information and technical advice.

  10.  To liaise with associated organisations, local and central government, to promote the Institute's purpose and objectives.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

  The Institute provides a thorough and comprehensive education and training service to its Members. The management of cemeteries and crematoria is a very challenging profession demanding a complex range of skills and competencies in a broad range of study areas. In recognition of this fact, the Institute provides a modular education and training programme to enable Members to study at their own pace, or to attain qualifications in those areas most suited to their role. The Institute has formed a partnership with the Stratford Business School to ensure the delivery of a high quality education service, and to ensure that the individual modules have externally verified recognition and may form part of a BTEC Higher National Certificate in Business. Further, the successful completion of each module and the submission of a thesis will lead to the award of the Institute's Diploma—a recognised qualification throughout the industry and usually a requirement for senior positions.

  The Institute also provides practical training in cemetery operations under the Cemetery Operatives Training Scheme (COTS). Courses cover gravedigging in a variety of ground conditions; advanced ground support systems, and a management awareness course for those overseeing grounds maintenance and gravedigging operations. The Institute is in a position to be able to develop specific training in the practicalities of and ethical approach to the proposed reuse of graves. The development of this training course should be carried out at a pilot site identified and authorised by the Minister of Bereavement Services. Before burial authorities are authorised to carry out reuse of graves the Minister for Bereavement Services should satisfy him/herself that all staff engaged in this process are qualified to this IBCA standard. Such a requirement would provide the Minister with an element of control and provide the Cemeteries Inspectorate with standard criteria.

TECHNICAL ADVICE

  The Institute operates a technical advice service through a network of Technical Advisors who have particular skills or knowledge in a variety of subjects related to burial and cremation. As a Member of the Institute you will be entitled to use the Technical Advice service for help and support.

COMMUNICATION

  The Institute publishes a quarterly magazine—The Journal—, which features articles and information relating to burial and cremation matters. The Journal welcomes input from Members, and many articles related to projects or work which Members carry out either in the course of their studies or in their workplace are featured. Further, official policies or guidelines produced by the Institute are published in The Journal, recent examples being the policy on the Disposal of Foetal Remains, and on the Management of Memorials.

THE CHARTER FOR THE BEREAVED AND BEST VALUE ASSESSMENT PROCESS

  A vital function of the Institute is to set standards of service for the industry, and the development and implementation of the Charter have achieved this for the Bereaved. In order to become members of the Charter for the Bereaved, burial and/or cremation authorities must show that they are able to satisfy 33 basic rights connected with funerals. The Charter also contains objectives, and helps authorities to set priorities for future development. Members of the public can be assured that an authority which has adopted the Charter is committed to providing excellent service.

  The Charter also offers the only code applicable to cemeteries, set out as the "Guiding Principles" in the Charter document.

  The Institute has also developed an Assessment Process which authorities can use to help prove that they are providing Best Value, and to use in conjunction with the Charter to form plans for improving the service. The Assessment Process provides the authority with a score and a ranking against other authorities, and is a powerful tool for proving continuous improvement. The comprehensive Assessment Process has been praised by the Audit Commission and is now recognised as the industry standard.

  Although it is at an early stage, the responses to the Assessment Process are supporting the views given in this submission. For instance, only 24 per cent of respondents currently meet the needs of the Disability Discrimination Act, and environmental responses are generally very poor.

December 2000


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 March 2001