The potential sale of Bretby Crematorium has moved a significant step closer with a secret meeting to be held about ‘disposing’ of the site to a private operator.
The Mail understands that four companies have now submitted bids to buy the crematorium — jointly owned by East Staffordshire Borough Council and South Derbyshire District Council.
Its Conservative-controlled joint management committee, made up of members of both authorities, will meet behind closed doors on Wednesday, with the public and Press barred from attending and the only agenda item for discussion being ‘disposal of asset’.
Julian Mott, Labour group leader on East Staffordshire Borough Council, said: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out what is happening.”
However, borough council leader Richard Grosvenor said discussions with potential buyers had only recently taken place and would only now be debated at the meeting.
The possible privatisation of the Geary Lane site has led to renewed concerns about future standards and the potential for increased charges for services and cremations if it is taken over by a profit-led private operator.
The opposition Labour groups on both authorities are strongly opposed to the crematorium’s potential privatisation, but admit they may be powerless to prevent it.
However, South Derbyshire District Council leader Bob Wheeler, who is also a member of the joint committee, said members had not seen any papers in relation to a sale and insisted they would want to know if any potential buyer was a ‘good, solid, responsible’ organisation before a decision would be made.
Last year, the crematorium made a profit of £143,611. It is expected that a sale would bring in around £2 million.
South Derbyshire Labour group leader Kevin Richards said: “These plans to sell off the crematorium are completely ideological and unnecessary and should be avoided.”
He said that a buyer must have now been found after the committee had been approached in 2009 by an interested party.
Council members were then ‘duty bound’ to look for other potential purchasers to ensure the best deal possible could be achieved.
His East Staffordshire counterpart, Councillor Mott, had spotted the ‘disposal of asset’ wording in the agenda while he was attending another behind closed doors council meeting on Monday.
He said: “The staff at the crematorium do a fantastic job and provide a brilliant service for both communities.
“Selling it off would be a highly sensitive issue and could be seen by some as ‘privatising death’.
“We are very concerned about the sale “The council doesn’t believe that it should run the crematorium, even though it has been successful for more than 30 years. They want money to spend elsewhere.
“I believe four companies have submitted a bid, and a decision will be made at the joint committee, but a business would take this on for no other aim than to make profit.”
A Labour crematorium joint committee member, South Derbyshire district councillor Bill Dunn, said he was totally opposed to any sale and would be voting against but feared he would be overruled by the the controlling Tory majority.
However, Councillor Wheeler said: “Our attitude to the sale, as East Staffs has the controlling interest, is that if any proposals are put forward, we must respond to them.
“We would want to know that any buyer would be a good, solid, responsible organisation. They also must be in a position to invest in the crematorium.”
Councillor Grosvenor said: “Investigations have been done with regard to potential buyers and the results are set to be discussed by the borough council and the joint committee next week.
“However, due to the commercially sensitive nature of these discussions, they remain confidential at this time.” He added that it was impossible to say whether the sale would have a negative impact.
“I share the concerns of fellow residents who have loved ones resting at the crematorium, which is why it saddens me that the Labour group leaders are turning this into a political decision — when it is not.
“Their comments, in my opinion, actually spread fear and upset among people who may have recently had to use the crematorium, and I feel that the term ‘privatising death’ is a particularly distasteful comment to make.”