Town hall chiefs have insisted that Midlands Co-op will not be able to ‘monopolise’ funeral services if it is allowed to buy Bretby Crematorium.
East Staffordshire Borough Council bosses spoke after a counter-claim was made by John Hylton, boss of the funeral business bearing his name, Sue Barke, his counterpart at Murray’s, and Charles Cowling, of the Good Funeral Guide.
In a letter to the council and its South Derbyshire counterpart, which are considering selling the Geary Lane crematorium to Midlands Co-op for £8 million, Mr Hylton said it was ‘no surprise most funeral directors had not objected’.
He said that, to the best of his knowledge, Midlands Co-op already had ‘ownership interests’ in Co-op Burton, Wellings, W Newton and Son, JH Grice of Hatton, AE Grice of Ashby, Ward and Brewin at Swadlincote and Woodville, WB Bradford of Measham and, ‘to a lesser degree’, Woodville Co-op.
“Should they be successful in their bid to purchase there is a strong growing concern that they would have the opportunity to monopolise, manipulate and create an unfair trading advantage in the area,” Mr Hylton said.
Mrs Barke, who opposed the sale in Monday’sMail, backed his analysis, as did Mr Cowling, who said: “If Midlands Coop acquires the crematorium it will have a virtual monopoly on funeral services in Burton.
“This is clearly against the public interest.” Mr Hylton also claimed the sale would only ‘probably bring in a much-needed one-off payment’ instead of ‘constant annual revenue with the asset still intact’.
He added that the majority opinion was to keep the crematorium in public hands, expressed fears that prices would rise and the grounds would be ‘commercialised’, and said he thought the fair way the facility was run would end.
A borough council spokesman said the authority could not comment on Mr Hylton’s letter as it had no record of receiving it, but said all correspondence about the crematorium ‘was being taken into consideration during the decision-making process’.
Bosses also released answers to a list of the most frequently asked questions about the proposed sale and put them on the council’s website, www.eaststaffsbc.co.uk They said access would be maintained and prices controlled, argued they had consulted on a move which would ‘unlock the potential to regenerate our towns’, and explained the Co-op was a cooperative, ‘not a private company’.
“The Co-op is prevented by law from creating a monopoly,” they added.