FUNERAL directors have welcomed news that Perth Crematorium is to stay in council hands.
But they slated the local authority for service cutbacks which will impact on grieving families.
Brothers Andrew and Billy Pennycook, partners in James McEwan and Son, the city’s longest-established funeral directors, reacted with dismay to Perth and Kinross Council cuts which kick in on Tuesday.
As of next week, the Crieff Road crematorium will be closed on Saturdays, preventing families viewing the Book of Remembrance and scattering ashes of loved ones in the gardens.
The council has also decided to stop offering Saturday morning interments in their 100-plus graveyards.
The Pennycooks were delighted when the council opted to retain control of the money-making facility, but fear clients will suffer undue distress as the new policy begins to hit home.
Billy Pennycook said: “Services for our clients are deteriorating at the same time the council is pushing up their financial demands.
“They freely admit it is down to cuts but this is, as they accept, a facility which makes a profit, or surplus in council terminology.
“It’s nonsense that the bereaved should be made to suffer at a time when they need all the support they can get.”
Brother, Andrew, said: “Years ago I remember the crematorium holding services on Saturdays and you could look at the Book of Remembrance and scatter ashes on Sundays as well.
“The council cut back staffing and didn’t want to pay overtime. So it closed on Sundays and opened from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
“Now it will shut all weekend. It is suggested visitors might be able to peek through the window at the book containing details of their loved ones.
“I believe the council even approached some charities to see if volunteers would man the crematorium and keep an eye on the Book of Remembrance.
“I can’t think of another crematorium in Scotland that shuts totally at weekends. It is probably the only one that doesn’t offer Saturday services.
“In Dundee, the crematorium opens on Saturday and Sunday, albeit that it is privately operated and you will pay top dollar.
“Stopping interments in graveyards on Saturdays could prove very distressing for families. Most folk work during the week and we often get requests for ashes to be interred in family graves at weekends.
“That’s when families can get together and there is often a minister present. That can take place a week or two after a cremation.
“Prices are also going up in the face of a reduced service. Come April the £500 crematorium fee goes up by £100 because of mercury abatement needs.
“Other crematoriums upped their fees in stages in recent years but Perth and Kinross didn’t do that.
“As for interments, we sometimes handle up to four on a Saturday morning, even if it costs 25% extra. They were prepared to pay because it suited family and friends working during the week.”
The Pennycooks revealed the council had indicated the funeral directors might be allowed to temporarily fill in a grave after a Saturday morning service.
But Billy said: “I suspect health and safety might have a problem with that so I don’t think it is a goer.
“It just seems that the public is again being made to suffer from cuts.”
Council environment convener Alan Grant said: “The council has looked very carefully at the delivery of bereavement services locally and it is clear that we should continue to manage and operate Perth Crematorium.
“We now have some important targets to meet with regard to budget savings, and mercury emissions.
“The proposals, which will alter how some aspects of bereavement services are provided, have already been the subject of discussion with funeral directors locally and we will keep the changes under review.”
The council is targeting savings of around £44,000.