Crem privatisation approved

PUBLISHED: 18:01 18 November 2009 | UPDATED: 11:19 25 May 2010

A £3MILLION private investment in a crematorium and cemeteries has been rubber stamped by council chiefs.

A £3MILLION private investment in a crematorium and cemeteries has been rubber stamped by council chiefs.

The decision means Dignity Funeral Services will run North Somerset's death services for 30 years from April.

It will take charge of the Ebdon Road cemetery in Weston, as well as sites in Portishead, Clevedon and Nailsea's garden of rest.

A further 21 closed churchyards will also be maintained by the company, which runs 30 crematoria nationwide.

The cash will see new cremators, memorial gardens and water features, as well as a refurbished and extended crematoria chapel with seating increased to 100.

Staff working at the affected sites are likely to be given jobs with the new operator.

Waiting facilities will be upgraded and enlarged, while footpaths and roads will be resurfaced.

Longer opening hours and a 24-hour contact centre will also be introduced.

Cllr Carl Francis-Pester, executive member for environment and asset management, said: "Dignity has vast experience in this area and understood how best to make improvements for the future while understanding the sensitivities of running the service.

"This is a positive outcome all round and residents can be assured that Dignity will be able to offer the best service possible for people at such a difficult time in their lives. "The council doesn't have the money to update let alone invest in the future of the service.

"Dignity will bring around £3million of investment to modernise, improve and ensure that this is a service that meets the needs of our community.

"We in turn will receive a management fee from Dignity and will be able to release nearly £1million which had been set aside to carry out essential works to ensure the cremators meet new environmental standards.

"We are confident that Dignity will transform this service and provide the investment needed to complete this."

But at last night's (Tues) full council meeting, long-serving independent councillor David Shopland raised concerns that people using the service would be exposed to private prices.

He said: "How will the council control how much people are charged?

"Or are the people of North Somerset going to be held to ransom for private profit?"

Cllr Francis-Pester responded by saying that if prices became too high, market forces would come into play and people would go elsewhere.

He also rejected Liberal Democrat calls to take the decision to the finance and performance policy and scrutiny panel before the motion was passed.

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