Memorandum by Restormel Borough Council,
Cornwall (CEM 26)
The Council has recently completed a Best Value
Review of its cemeteries' service and a copy of the interim report
of the Best Value Review is enclosed. A number of the Council's
interim findings are relevant to the Select Committee's work on
this issue and these are set out below. It is assumed that the
Committee has been briefed on the legislative background of cemeteries
provision so it has not been repeated here. However, a brief synopsis
of the legislative position in respect of Parish and District
Councils is set out in section 24 of the interim report.
In Restormel the service provided by the Borough
Council comprises three elements:
(a) Allocation of plots and maintaining records.
(b) Preparation of graves.
(c) Maintenance of cemeteries and closed
It should be noted that the Council only provides
cemeteries in parts of the Borough. 20 are provided by the local
Parish Council as the relevant Burial Authority.
The Best Value Review showed that there was
general satisfaction with the service provided by the Authority.
Complaints are rare and graves are, virtually without exception,
always prepared within the 48-hour target time set. The following
issues are those which the Council feel it would be particularly
relevant to draw to the Committee's attention:
1. Cemeteries are important locally and,
although provided by a mixture of District and Parish Councils
within the Borough, location is more important than who runs them.
We did not find any support from our limited research for the
provision of a centralised cemetery, say in St. Austell, even
though it will be difficult to extend or replace some existing
cemeteries within the relevant town or village. An example of
this is Fowey cemetery, which has a limited lifespan left, but
there is no suitable land available for an extension or replacement.
2. Curiously parish owned cemeteries within
the Borough have plenty of spaces left. So far as the Borough's
cemeteries are concerned, replacements will have to be found at
Fowey and St. Austell.
3. The shortage of burial space suggests
that consideration should be given to reducing the period before
which re-use of burial plots can be allowed. The Borough Council
currently leases its plots for a period of 100 years but national
guidelines should perhaps be revisited and maximum and minimum
periods set. This is a controversial issue for many people and
may not be accepted by next of kin.
4. Fragmented ownership of cemeteries means
that effective investment in, and supervision of, them are difficult.
Within the Borough the cost of the service is currently heavily
subsidised by the council taxpayer. Income only accounts for one
third of gross expenditure. In 1999/2000, for example, expenditure
was £197,000 and income was £62,000. This reduces the
ability of the Authority to invest in modern technology: for example
there are no computerised records or recording of cemetery plans.
The Council also cannot provide regular supervision of cemeteries,
eg through resident caretakers, to help prevent vandalism and
has to operate a policy of lawned cemeteries discouraging the
use of monuments etc to facilitate low cost maintenance. In addition
the Council is unable to invest in maintaining its chapels, some
of which are now no longer used for burial services but for storage
5. As a result of this work the Council will
be reviewing its charges for cemeteries. Currently the cost paid
to the Authority is only a fraction of the total cost paid by
the public for a funeral. For example the charge for an adult
burial is £200 for the exclusive right of burial; £183
for grave digging and £28 for a monument, a total of £411.
However the actual cost of the funeral could be at least five
to 10 times that. Comparison with cremation charges show there
is scope to overhaul our mainly historic charging system and levy
more realistic rates.
6. Currently cemeteries and closed churchyards
are subject to Business Rates. Money spent on Business Rates could
be used to invest in the service and the abolition of Business
Rates on cemeteries should be considered by the Select Committee.
7. A Cemetery Authority for the County as
a whole, responsible for all cemeteries currently owned and operated
by District and Parish Councils could produce substantial savings
and a more consistent service. As the next stage of the Best Value
Review the Council is currently considering the possibility of
working with an adjoining District to provide the service. However,
under current legislation, as the Burial Authority, it must retain
responsibility for the cemeteries it currently operates even if
the service is operated by a private contractor or joint local
authority company or consortium. Is local authority control really
necessary? Could the service be fully privatised or could ownership
and maintenance be privatised and the maintenance of records retained
in local authority hands? For Restormel Borough Council and I
suspect most other local authorities, including the Parishes,
the service will never be a corporate priority and will therefore
never be more than an add-on to the work of departments involved
in more main stream work.
8. Under current legislation once a cemetery
or churchyard operated by the Parish or Parochial Church Council
has been closed it can be transferred to the District Council
which then has no choice but to take on the responsibility for
its maintenance and upkeep. The cost of this has to be met exclusively
by the local authority as no income is derived from any source
other than the General Fund to support them. A number of issues
Costs are likely to rise steeply
as a result of the need to ensure health and safety requirements
are met, particularly in older cemeteries or churchyards with
headstones which are in danger of falling over. These have to
be surveyed and the cost of securing them is significant.
Closed churchyards remain the
property of the Diocese despite the fact the maintenance cost
falls on the local authority. This is a rather odd and inequitable
situation. It means:
A fee of well over £100
has to be paid to the Diocesan Council before any work can be
done by the local authority in a closed churchyard. As a result
the Council has to pay for permission, for example, to survey
a churchyard and then has no option but to pay for any works which
are found to be necessary! This could be in respect of securing
headstones but could also be to make trees safe etc. There is
not necessarily a direct correlation between the population of
a district and the number of churchyards within its boundaries.
Inability to afford future maintenance costs is not a reason for
an authority to object to a churchyard being closed.
The future responsibility for
closed cemeteries and churchyards should be considered closely
by the Committee.
9. There is increasing interest in private
and woodland burials.
10. Although the number of cremations in
Cornwall appears to be constant further research needs to be done
on the ratio of burials to cremations. This can probably only
be done nationally as death rates in the borough do not correlate
to burial and cremation rates because a significant number of
people choose to be buried or cremated outside the district or
county in which they live. This means some deceased residents
of the Borough are buried outside its borders but conversely people
are buried in the Borough who lived in another District or outside
the county altogether.
Mrs Pat Crowson