Chelmsford MP brands plan to raise cost of bereavement services as “immoral”

A plan to raise the cost of bereavement services in Chelmsford, including burial and cremation fees, has been branded as “immoral” by Vicky Ford, the city’s MP.

But Chelmsford City Council’s leader has said her claim is “just playing politics” and “wholly irresponsible”.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, January 26, the ruling Liberal Democrats announced plans to increase bereavement fees by 12 per cent – raising the cost to cremate the remains of a loved one aged 16 or more by at least £95 and increasing charges for a burial by at least £234.

Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford has called the decision “immoral”, sparking a backlash from the council’s Lib Dem leader Stephen Robinson.

Ms Ford said: “I am concerned to hear that there is a proposal by Chelmsford City Council leadership to increase funeral charges by 12 per cent.

“At a time when so many people are grieving for a loved one and when people are so concerned about their own finances, hiking up funeral charges seems to me to be immoral.”

Conservative members present at the meeting also attacked the plans and called for a rethink.

Opposition leader Councillor Roy Whitehead, from the Conservative group on the city council, said “We know that COVID has left a hole in the council’s finances.

“That’s true of many councils across England, but at a time when there are so many deaths from COVID in Chelmsford this plan to pick the pockets of grieving families really is the lowest of the low.

“The Lib Dems need to think again and withdraw this heartless proposal.”

Council leader Stephen Robinson said the council finances had been severely affected by the pandemic and central government had not provided sufficient support.

According to the council 2020/21 has been like no other year due to COVID 19 – income streams such as car parking,  theatres and  leisure centres will fall by about £13 million this year. Expenditure will rise by £500,000 as it responds to the crisis.

After Government funding it expects a deficit of about £3 million.

Cllr Robinson said: “The Conservatives are trying to mislead the public over what they have done. The Government has failed to make good its promise that it would stand by local councils.

“Back in April the Government told councils to do whatever they needed to do to support their community and the government would stand behind councils and they haven’t.

“The Government has made available funds to pass straight on to business but that is not money that has been given to the council.

“And so it is actually wholly irresponsible and misleading and MPs like Ms Ford’s are just playing politics. They should be more responsible.”

A 12 per cent increase in burials for residents equates a rise from £1,955 to £2,189.

He said that even with the increases Chelmsford will still charge below the Essex average.

He added: “It is just one more of the realities of this pandemic that the cemetery staff have had to work above and beyond their normal commitments late into the night in the last ten months.

“Costs have risen as  result and it would be wholly irresponsible of the council not to fund the service properly.”

Vicky Ford has been approached for further comment.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter