At the beginning of July, Scotland’s first Inspector of Funeral Directors will begin work and everyone in the profession is awaiting her arrival with keen interest.
With regulation of funeral directors high on the Scottish Government’s agenda, Natalie McKail will doubtless be keen to meet funeral directors from across Scotland to hear their views.
She might be pleasantly surprised. The National Association of Funeral Directors, the profession’s leading trade association which represents 80 per cent of funeral directors across the UK, is supportive, as is SAIF, the Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors.
However, both associations have much to offer in terms of what they already do, in terms of standards, protocols and education.
The NAFD, which is working closely with Government on a number of fronts in relation to the future of the funeral and cremation professions, offers a Diploma in Funeral Directing and Diploma of Funeral Arranging and Administration.
Members are also subject to stringent standards checks, a Code of Practice and Code of Professional Standards, ensuring that members of the public can choose an NAFD member with confidence. All the existing standards will be offered as a way forward to create protocols for Government regulation.
More than that, at a specially organised conference in April, held in Stirling to discuss matters around regulation, the two organisations signed a historic agreement to work together to support the Government in the best interests of bereaved families.
The joint agreement, which is a public document, sets out a series of guiding principles for both organisations to follow in the development of regulation. These include the need to ensure safety and public health and to work in the public interest. It was submitted to the Scottish Government and represents a formal commitment to work with Scottish Ministers to develop regulation that will be proportionate and appropriate, and will ultimately benefit bereaved people.
The document also states that its purpose “is to facilitate the contribution of all funeral directors, suppliers and those with an interest in the industry to the regulatory developments under the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016, in the public interest”.
Speakers at the event included Cheryl Paris, from the Scottish Government’s Burial and Cremation Legislation Team, and Richard Meade, head of policy and public affairs for Marie Curie in Scotland.
Ms Paris discussed the background to the Government’s decision to introduce regulation – to prevent the kind of problems that led to the Infant Cremation Commission and the National Cremation Investigation into baby ashes.
She told funeral directors that Government recommendations include increased training, and the introduction of standards set in statute, and confirmed that that regulation would be “proportionate and appropriate”.
Those last two words are vital. While as an Association, and speaking for every one of our members, we have the best interests of the families we serve at heart, funeral directors are businesses. Members of the Association range from large firms with hundreds of employees, to small owner-operator firms.
Regulation for those two groups mean and look like very different things and it is important that we lobby and guide with all our member firms’ interests at heart.
From our point of view, it is important that Miss McKail carries on the close working relationship between business and Government. That way everyone can ensure that when regulation is introduced, it is done so that best benefits business and best benefits the needs of those we serve.
Tim Purves, NAFD Scotland representative and director of William Purves Funeral Directors, Edinburgh.