COMMENT: Licensing should be implemented without delay

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AMID the aftermath of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal and the relentless increase in funeral costs, a searching spotlight has been turned on the funeral industry. The average total cost of a funeral in Scotland is now £3550 with wide and bewildering variations in costs and charges across Scotland. A growing number of families are struggling to afford this essential service.

AMID the aftermath of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal and the relentless increase in funeral costs, a searching spotlight has been turned on the funeral industry. The average total cost of a funeral in Scotland is now £3550 with wide and bewildering variations in costs and charges across Scotland. A growing number of families are struggling to afford this essential service.

Holyrood’s Local Government Committee has made some welcome and long overdue proposals for reform. The proposed Bill would tighten rules on form-filling to make sure parents are properly informed and are given a choice on disposal of ashes.

But this does not go far enough. Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP has described the failure to take a decision on the licensing of funeral directors as “a missed opportunity” – and the committee recommended licensing should be implemented without delay.

We agree. In the vast majority of cases, funeral directors carry out their duties with professionalism, thoughtfulness and sensitivity. But greater opportunity should have been taken to fundamentally change the way the funeral industry operates and signal public concern over service standards and costs. There certainly needs to be a tighter regulation and licensing scheme to create greater transparency around the cost of funerals.

The Citizens Advice Bureau found a postcode lottery of burial and cremation costs across Scotland with local authorities charging widely ranging fees. East Dunbartonshire, the most expensive local authority for burials, was charging £2716, four times as much as one of the cheapest, East Renfrewshire. Edinburgh was among five of the 32 local authorities in Scotland that did not publish the details of burial costs and cremation services on their websites. Clearly it is time for greater transparency and a proper licensing system.