Section 89 of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 introduces the role of Inspector of Funeral Directors for the first time in Scotland, and I was privileged to be appointed to the post in July 2017. Ministers have requested that, over a two year period, I carry out a critical appraisal of the work of funeral directors, to understand the application of the Infant Cremation Guidance produced by the National Committee on Infant Cremation, and to make recommendations as to a future regulatory landscape at the end of this year, including whether licensing should be introduced in the sector.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Ministers for asking me to carry out this unique work on their behalf, to thank colleagues in Scottish Government for guiding and supporting me, and to representatives and key stakeholders within the sector for their participation. This open and robust dialogue has very much aided my understanding of the work of these businesses, and will inform the development of future regulatory approaches.
The moral and ethical imperative for this work is clear, and with an average of 55,000 deaths per annum over the last few years, and the majority of bereaved families choosing to access support from funeral directors. There is a collective responsibility therefore to ensure that good standards of care for the deceased, and support for the bereaved, are an on-going and recognisable feature of this sector for many years to come.
I’d like to reflect on the progress and milestone events of the last year in Scotland, specifically in relation to funeral directors. I am told that the pace of change in recent years has increased significantly, indeed in one case I was told by a funeral director that it was like nothing he’d seen in thirty years. I reference this in my introduction as it is important for us all to have an understanding of the links, interdependencies and impacts of these overarching review, self-analysis and scrutiny processes. It is also vital that we work collaboratively to create a culture of support and empowerment so that changes are understood and embedded, and ultimately improves the way in which we all support the bereaved, and care for the deceased, in Scotland.
- Understanding the implications and phased commencement of the new Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016.
- Appointment of Inspector of Funeral Directors
- Continuing to implement membership requirements for existing trade organisations
- Implementing membership requirements for mandatory refrigeration
- Scottish Government consultation and engagement on Inspection and Cremation Regulations as set out in the 2016 Act – Link
- Scottish Government Funeral Expenses Assistance and Funeral Poverty/Affordability programme – Link
- Publication of the Mortuary Review Group report February 2018 – Link
- Competition and Markets Authority ( CMA) market study into the UK funeral market – Link
- UK Government’s call for evidence over regulation of the pre-paid funeral planning market – Link
- New businesses, new business models including simple funerals, direct cremation, social enterprise models and Local Authority partnerships. Developing online platforms for customer interface.
- Sector/cost analysis reports by Citizens Advice Scotland and Fairer Finance in partnership with Dignity.
- Development of customer needs and expectations research programmes
I’ve highlighted some of the key milestones as I understand them from last year in the box above, but I’m sure there are many more which I’ve not noted for individual businesses. Many funeral directors in recent years have embarked on transformational change programmes, are making improvements to services and facilities and are trying new approaches to engage with, or provide services to, their customers. These efforts are to be recognised and commended, and the need to further develop these approaches in a new landscape should be supported.
In summary, I observe that there has been a significant drive amongst many funeral directors to understand the future requirements and needs of the public in terms of providing funeral services in modern times, to continue to be responsive to choices and to provide options to customers, but to do this at a time where the future regulatory landscape is unknown. We are also developing new approaches to our collaboration efforts to create an evolved regulatory landscape in a traditionally unregulated sphere of work. We have embarked on a significant journey of exploration and improvement, and I’m pleased to take up this role at time of high levels of participation and debate.