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Council financial crisis prompts Greens to call for more cremations amid 5% funeral cost hike


By Scott Maclennan

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The cost of lairs at cemeteries will rise by five per cent, pictured here is St Mary's Catholic Church in Beauly.
The cost of lairs at cemeteries will rise by five per cent, pictured here is St Mary's Catholic Church in Beauly.

One of the smallest changes but one of the most emotive in Highland Council's budget was a rise in funeral costs with the price of lairs to rise by five per cent.

The depth of Highland Council's financial woes was illustrated when the Greens called for the local authority to try and encouraged people to choose cremation rather than burial to save money.

Group leader Chris Ballance made the suggestion because the local authority is running out of space and cannot afford to buy new plots of land for cemeteries.

He advocated for a 10 per cent rise in lair costs arguing that "an increase at just the rate of inflation is surely not going to do any harm."

Earlier Conservative Councillor Struan Mackie sought a freeze on any costs seeking "a commitment to ending funeral poverty and saying Highland Council is different."

He said: “The Scottish Greens are proposing to hike the fees, the joint administration are proposing a modest increase, and the opposition is seeking to freeze them at this time of the cost of living crisis.

“I wish to reiterate that, though I understand where the administration is coming from, comparators and benchmarking on issues like these are not what we should be basing our decisions on.

“Behind each one of these cost savings, particularly in this regard, is a grieving family who are struggling to pay what may well be unexpected funeral bills.

“I believe it is incredibly important that we draw a line in the sand and state that for a Highland for Highlanders – we will freeze these rates today. My amendment represents 0.000035 per cent change in the budget you will pass here today.”

He added: “I think if there was ever a time to use just £23,000 of our reserves, a rounding error for many, to make a commitment to ending funeral poverty and saying Highland Council is different then surely this is the time.”

Green leader Cllr Chris Ballance said: “I would like to address the words that were spoken, very sensible and reasonable words, about our policy on the purchase of lairs. It is the case that we are currently running out of space for burials.

“We cannot afford the cost of new land, inflation is going up by 10 per cent, there is an urgent imperative on encouraging people to use cremation rather than burial and an increase at just the rate of inflation is surely not going to do any harm to that.

“We are already the lowest in Scotland or one of the lowest for the price of lairs.

“We are told these are not cuts, it is slippage and redirection. Well, friends, if you think slippage and redirection in the gents public convenience is going to make them cleaner then I really do not understand where you are coming from.

“So my amendment reinstates the cut to public conveniences, the cut to facilities and my modest amendment creates a balanced budget and I would urge you all to support this.”

Cllr Chris Ballance responded: “I would like to address the words that were spoken, very sensible and reasonable words, about our policy on the purchase of lairs. It is the case that we are currently running out of space for burials.

“We cannot afford the cost of new land, inflation is going up by 10 per cent, there is an urgent imperative on encouraging people to use cremation rather than burial and an increase at just the rate of inflation is surely not going to do any harm to that.

“We are already the lowest in Scotland or one of the lowest for the price of lairs."

Cllr Mackie’s amendment to freeze costs was defeated at the vote as was Cllr Ballance's to raise them.


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