Burial and swimming costs soar under cuts, warns public spending watchdog

Scots are being forced to pay more to bury their loved ones, park their cars and take their children swimming as councils struggle with budget cuts, according to the public spending watchdog.

Swimming costs are on the rise.
Swimming costs are on the rise.

Local authorities are turning to new ways of raising money to cope with a real terms funding fall of 6 per cent since 2013-14, the Accounts Commission said in a report today.

Its annual assessment showed that as well as making cuts to some services and raising council tax by the maximum allowed, some are also levying new charges or increasing existing ones.

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Local authorities have increased 11 types of charge by greater than the rate of inflation over the past three years, it said, with the highest increases in relation to burials.

The cost of a graveyard or crematorium plot rose by an average of 20 per cent over this period, while the cost of burial services also increased by 12 per cent. The price of home meals provided for the elderly increased by 6 per cent, while at-home care also rose by up to 6 per cent per hour. Weekly charges for in-home alarms climbed by 8 per cent.

The average cost of a residential parking permit increased by 6 per cent, while charges for the collection and disposal of bulky items from people’s homes grew 8 per cent.

Leisure services were also affected, with swimming pool entry fees for children up 11 per cent and the cost of hiring out sports courts and school halls both up by 9 per cent. The watchdog also highlighted other discretionary ways councils were hoping to raise money, including through “tourist taxes” and charging businesses that provide parking places to employees. Council umbrella body Cosla said the Audit Commission’s report showed most local authorities were continuing to deliver essential services to communities despite “substantial cuts in funding”.

Resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said: “The current financial treatment of local government is not sustainable nor in anyone’s interests, especially our communities who rely on vital services.”

Holyrood’s opposition parties criticised the increases to burial costs, blaming the Scottish Government for cutting council funding.

“It’s simply horrifying that the cost of burying a loved one is soaring because of brutal cuts to councils,” Labour’s finance spokesman James Kelly said. A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers had already acted to remove burial fees for under-18s and had published an action plan to tackle funeral poverty.

He said: “We recognise there are challenges, but we have continued to treat local government very fairly.”