Burial delays being blamed on shortage of gravediggers for Borders

Wellogate Cemetery in Hawick.
Wellogate Cemetery in Hawick.
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Council cutbacks are being blamed for a shortage of gravediggers currently leaving grieving Borders’ families waiting up to three weeks to bury their loved ones.

Scottish Borders Council provides burials at 154 cemeteries across the region, but its gravediggers now work region-wide and no longer cover only specific towns, as was the case in the past.

That – combined with a reduction in register offices’ opening hours and high demand in winter months – is said to be responsible for the delays at present.

Hawick funeral director Paul Robson says it is a disgrace that families from the town are having to travel further afield to get access to registrars.

The family firm’s boss said: “What they did a few years ago is they started to regionalise things.

“There are no gravediggers specific to the Hawick area.

“Instead, they are spread quite thinly and they are overworked.

“Everybody’s working as hard as they can, but it’s also the same with registrars. It’s cutbacks, and everybody is feeling it.

“In England, they are having to wait up to three weeks for a funeral. They have done for the last 10 to 15 years. That is just the way it is these days.

“People in the cemeteries department are working as hard as they can.

“The council could do with employing more cemetery staff in regard to gravediggers, although the ones we do have are absolutely brilliant.

“It’s just a shame that it’s been regionalised.

“If we need to get a funeral in Hawick, sometimes the boys are having to dig funerals in Jedburgh, where up until three years ago that wasn’t the case, when Hawick gravediggers looked after Hawick and you had gravediggers for every single area. Now, because of a lack of them, they are having to work all over the place.

“The delays are a result of the registrars’ current process also.

“Previously, somebody would pass away on a Monday and we would have them buried by a Thursday or a Friday.

“We can’t do that anymore because the registrars that used to be open every single day of the week in Hawick are now open just two-and-a-half or three days a week.

“We have got Hawick families having to travel as far as Eyemouth, Galashiels, Kelso or Melrose to get a registrar’s appointment because they can’t get one in Hawick, which, as far as I am concerned, for the families I have to deal with, is absolutely disgraceful.

“Again, this is due to council cutbacks. It’s not the registrars’ fault. They are brilliant.”

A council spokesperson said: “Our burial teams make every effort to accommodate burial requests from bereaved families, and in normal circumstances the vast majority of burial requests are met.

“However, the squads are extremely busy at the moment due to a high volume of requests, which is resulting in short delays to some interments.

“All avenues are being explored regarding squad availability to meet as many requests as possible.”

The council charges £762 for weekday burials and £963 for ones on Saturday mornings.