“What now for SAIF?”

words: Joe Murren, S. SAIF Quality Assurance Inspector

It was during the investigation into the baby ashes scandal that Scottish Government Ministers finally acknowledged the funeral sector is totally unregulated, something the sector has been pointing out for many years.

Despite Scottish Government interest over a number of years, with investigations and reports on the sector, only recently has the Government taken steps to bring the funeral sector under a regulatory framework. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2016, which included its own section on funeral directors. The Act gave authority to the Scottish Parliament to introduce a licensing scheme for all funeral director businesses operating in Scotland and to compel all funeral directors to adhere to any Code of Practice issued by Scottish Ministers when carrying out their business.

The Act also gave Government the power to appoint Inspectors, following the recommendation of the Infant Cremation Commission and the report of the National Cremation Investigation led by Lord Bonomy. In April 2017, the Scottish Government appointed Natalie McKail as the first Inspector of Funeral Directors.

Scottish SAIF involvement

Earlier this year, Ms McKail established a Short Life Working Group (SLWG) on Care of the Deceased with the purpose: ‘To explore the current standards for operation, training and care of the deceased used by funeral directors and how these existing standards might inform a future Code of Practice.’

The SLWG included representatives from Scottish SAIF who worked hard to ensure any draft Code of Practice was robust enough to ensure a Scottish funeral service would deliver a minimum level of service providing complete, dignified care and protection for the deceased and appropriate support for the bereaved. It was also the aim of your representatives to ensure any Code was proportionate to the level of activity and was within the achievable capabilities of Scottish SAIF members. We believe the current draft Code of Practice achieves both these aims.

The Code is out for public consultation and following any final amendments will go forward to Scottish Ministers for consideration to adopt it into law.

What of the future?

The question that some may now be asking is: ‘If the Scottish Government is providing an inspection regime and will deal with major complaints, is there a need for Scottish SAIF?’

Well, leaving aside all the other benefits Scottish SAIF provides, the answer is clearly yes. In fact, there has never been a greater need for an organisation to represent the independent funeral director.

  • Who else will ensure you are informed and up to date with the Scottish Government Code of Practice and assess the implications on your business?
  • Who else will assist with implementing any necessary change with sample processes and templates?
  • Who else will monitor your business to ensure it is compliant before the Government Inspector calls?
  • Who else will represent you in future discussions with the Scottish Government?

If not Scottish SAIF, then who?

The Co-operative, Dignity and other large corporate groups all have their own in-house support and do not necessarily need the help of an outside organisation. As such, they may be considered to have an advantage over the independent funeral director. Scottish SAIF will help level the playing field by providing at least the same, if not a far superior, support network.

However, to do so requires Scottish SAIF to develop in many areas:

  • We need to improve communications and establish a system for members that provides for communication up as well as down. Communication needs to be constant and not just three times a year at meetings.
  • We need to organise more, and superior, education sessions that address current topical issues of interest and are delivered in a way that makes them available to the majority of members
  • We need extensive development of the Quality Assurance programme criteria to better reflect the Scottish Government Code of Practice to ensure members will be fully compliant
  • The Quality Assurance programme needs to focus more on the practical aspects of our work, such as care of the deceased, conducting the funeral, etc
  • We need to ensure National SAIF develops sample procedures and templates to help members meet any Code of Practice requirements
  • We need to develop education that facilitates not just the knowledge but also the skills necessary to perform to the highest level and firmly establish them as a value and belief so they become habit
  • We need to develop and use technology to help facilitate any required Continued Professional Development (CPD)
  • We need to re-examine our criteria for membership to ensure future members have the knowledge and skills and not just the facilities to be a member of an elite organisation
  • We need to be ruthless in ensuring current members meet the exacting standards for Scottish SAIF and not accept anything less
  • We need to continue open and transparent discussion and relationships with the Scottish Government to ensure our continued influence

All of this, and perhaps more, needs to be completed within the next two years to ensure our Scottish members are ready when the first Government Code of Practice becomes enforceable.

What of National SAIF?

Well, that takes care of Scotland and its members, so what of the SAIF members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who are not legally bound by such regulations?

It could be argued that since Scotland has its own Executive, manages its own finances, makes its own rules and decides on its own membership criteria it could stand alone and have a higher standards requirement from other members. While this may seem acceptable within SAIF, how would it be regarded by other organisations and members of the public? They may see SAIF as one National organisation and find it strange that it should have two different standards, one higher than the other.

Therefore, the question National needs to consider over the next 24 months is: ‘Should National SAIF make the higher Scottish Code of Practice regulations a requirement for all members?’

If it decides against, we will have two different Quality Assurance Programmes, two Codes of Practice, two membership criteria. This will then demonstrate a clear divide between National members (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and those in Scotland.

This is not the end, it is only the beginning. The Parliament in Wales will follow as will Stormont and Westminster and we know the Republic of Ireland is considering regulations.

Unless National SAIF takes a pragmatic view of the future and moves towards accepting whatever is the highest standard and inaugurating this for all members, it runs the risk of creating a fragmented organisation with different standards in each country. This will lead to the demise of National SAIF and the strength and support required by independent funeral directors of a united organisation.

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