An inspector calls

words: Jim Brodie, Scottish SAIF Government Liaison

This month’s SAIFInsight featured part two of Jim Brodie’s special report on regulation of the funeral profession. In this update Jim – the Scottish SAIF Government Liaison – covers changing legislation.

Meeting two

The second meeting was for SAIF and the NAFD to clear the air with the Scottish Government over a recent consultation misunderstanding. Paul Cuthell and Tim Purves attended, representing the NAFD, and we were also introduced to Morgan Harris, a legislation chap from the NAFD, parachuted in after the loss of Mandie Lavin. Terry Tennens, Mark Porteous, Joe Murren and myself attended for SAIF.

The consultation was to give the Scottish Government an idea of what interim powers were acceptable for Holyrood to give Natalie McKail, Scotland’s first Inspector of Funeral Directors, until a proper regulated regime was put in place. Natalie cannot get the whole picture without powers of entry and interview. Seizure and further powers were always at the extreme end.

The legal counsel advised against any input into the consultation as the counsel advised the whole consultation may be illegal on some fronts. Due to this differing of legal interpretations the NAFD/SAIF chose not to submit an Association’s response. Everyone agreed to draw a line under the consultation and move on. The Scottish Government was also asked to give a response to the Stirling Agreement and our combined code of practice.

What was confirmed was that our main hope of trade association inspectors with Government overwatch was not in the Act’s remit. The Act does not allow for the use of trade associations for licensing purposes, as the Government cannot demand association membership.

Potentially, trade associations could become irrelevant. However, there is huge scope for trade bodies to be the facilitators for a smooth change and, after regulation, the purveyors of accredited education, continuous professional development (CPD), peer review of non- regulated complaints and most importantly keeping their members advised and assisting with keeping them on the right side of inspection. Criminal charges for non-compliance are a real possibility; therefore they would be a buffer to censure from big Government.

With 700-plus locations to inspect in Scotland alone, Natalie isn’t going to do that on her own. Therefore, there will be a choice of many more inspectors on the one hand or a light touch ‘no smoke without fire’ approach to inspection on the other. They are both ends of the inspection spectrum but it will definitely be an independent body from the profession or Government.

As a very important safeguard, these inspectors will report directly to ministers who will be the only powers able to close a business. An important and unanswered question is who will pay for this new regulatory scheme and inspectors.

The agreed way forward is for us to be involved in setting the interim powers and what they will mean to our members, before they go before Holyrood. This means we will be able to influence those rules and ensure members are aware beforehand so they’ve at least got forewarning ‘when the inspector calls’.

Gareth Brown, who represents the Health Minister, informed us the route to complain was via Health Improvement Scotland (HIS), an arm of the NHS with actual teeth. We’ve all complained to Health Trusts and councils only to be ignored. However, he assured us that HIS would listen.

Finally, we finished on a positive note – they need the profession to come up with real world solutions to regulatory problems and they can’t finish the Statutory Code of Practice without our input and consultation.

Meeting three

During the third meeting we discussed the Funeral Poverty Action Plan with Andrew Burke, Cheryl Paris and Natalie McKail. Also in attendance was a Scottish Government liaison with third sector and social development grants. My strong views on funeral affordability/poverty and a lack of political will to fix it are well known. Suffice to say they are now acutely aware that we don’t see numbers or statistics; we’ve to look into the eyes of real people in real pain in our communities, not numbers and faceless issues. I don’t think he’ll ever doubt our commitment and resolve again.

It was also mentioned the funeral bond would likely be no more than a glorified savings account. I mentioned the vast majority of claimants to the Funeral Expenses Assistance Payment would be well known to the devolved benefits agency and they should be opening the conversation with their clients straight away and not leaving them until a death has occurred. Tim Purves also had a very valid point about direct cremation, adding it was more usually the retired professional who opted for it by choice, rather than the financially constrained forced into it.

Mark Porteous highlighted the invidious position of funeral directors to the Scottish Government.

It seems the funeral Inspector is pulling us in one direction, care of the deceased, which will have financial implications; Cheryl Paris and the regulation team are pulling us in another expensive direction – a regulation system. Then we have the funeral poverty implementation groups pushing for a reduction in our fees while allowing the councils to charge whatever they like and, finally, the Scottish Government putting money into a direct cremation not for profit company.

Needless to say the officials were all a bit quiet and apologetic after this.

Have your say

Independents are not on their own and associations are here to help, but we need input from the entire profession. Contact your MP, MSP, Assembly Member and anyone who will listen. This is a billion pound profession, which will pay far more than its share in taxes. Wake up and make yourself heard or go quietly into the night.

The next few years will be the hardest and most explosive for a century for some; for others the change won’t even register as they already surpass the minimum standard. Where will you stand?

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