AN angry Perth resident yesterday expressed dismay at the latest council cuts aimed at the city’s crematorium.
Hard on the heels of criticism directed at the local authority by funeral directors James McEwan and Son in last Friday’s PA, a local householder said it was the latest in a long line of “ridiculous” steps which are impacting on costs and services.
The PA reader, who did not wish to be named, produced information obtained under the Freedom of Information to show that in the last two years, the Crieff Road crematorium returned profits of £156,000 and £136,000.
Now the council has closed the crematorium building on Saturdays and stopped offering Saturday morning interments at local graveyards.
And, claiming that a programme of improvements first mooted three years ago had again gone on hold, she said: “An increase of £100 per cremation service is unjustifiable.”
The furious resident recalled the council controversially axed organists last year and insisted ive-figure consultants’ fees and severance pay would have paid for many services at a rate of £25.46 per service.
“The reason they gave was that 19 per cent of crematorium users preferred pipe music rather than an organist,” she said.
“It was reported that in order to ease congestion and improve timekeeping difficulties, the minister’s reading desk had been fitted with a warning light which switched on in the last three minutes of any service.”
She said Perth Presbytery discussed the thorny issue and debated the need for a “gathering space” to assist mourners leaving ceremonies and also possible additional parking facilities.
“The council told me last year they were costing a design for improvements and later they confirmed they were seeking funding,” said the complainer.
“They hoped the exit shelter would be introduced this year and I was very hopeful given the profits being posted by the crematorium.
“I inquired again in March with the winter behind us and finally heard in May that final costs had been obtained and glazed cladding would be ready for installation before the end of the summer.”
But Richard Smith, principal bereavement services officer, recently revealed that following consultation with funeral directors, the original “shelter” plans had developed into a more secure and comfortable area with lockable access doors.
That prompted a problem with low level exhaust vents and she lamented: “Now I have been told the shelter has gone on hold until next year at the earliest when a new heating system is planned to be installed.
“Can the council really continue to indulge in inefficient management while continuing to allocate the not inconsiderable profits from this service to budget deficit areas?
“Now mourners are going to be subjected to another winter of cold buildings and lacking shelter outside.
“We are told services are being cut back further and costs are increasing by £100 against a background of procrastination, inefficiency and incompetence.
“There is no timescale for the new heating system so the promised exit shelter can be conveniently shelved while pie in the sky plans soak up thousands of pounds before any work is done.”
But yesterday a Perth and Kinross Council spokesman rejected accusations that the crematorium shelter had been delayed unnecessarily.
He said: “The council has plans to build an external shelter at the crematorium in which mourners can greet funeral attendees and gather after services.
“This will assist in avoiding congestion in the main foyer of the building during large or overrunning services.
“We cannot currently construct the shelter as it would enclose exhausts from the existing gas heating system.
“We plan to renew the heating system in the near future, which will remove these exhausts. We can then go ahead with the shelter.
“This has nothing to do with ‘diverting budget surpluses’ but simply relates to the upgrading of this 50-year-old building in a planned, systematic and sensible manner.”