Thank you to all those who took the time to respond to our request, to non-affiliated funeral directors, to participate in the FSCSR review. Given the volume of responses, it is not possible to respond to everyone individually so I’ve decided to set out my thoughts through an open letter to you all.
It is clear, from the nature of some of the responses received, that some of you saw the request to let us know, by 30 August, if you would be interested in taking part in the consultation as the actual deadline for sharing your views. Moreover, some of you then sought to meet that deadline – despite the pressures of running your businesses.
Can I reassure you that, as was stated in the message, but may not have been understood – this was simply the deadline to express an interest in being directly consulted. I am truly sorry for any misunderstanding but, equally, I am extremely grateful to those who worked so hard to pull their comments together as they have helped to shape the next steps.
Together with the views expressed, publicly, by your colleague Louise Winter, these comments have firmly reinforced for me the importance of ensuring the review properly and comprehensively engages with non-affiliated funeral directors.
I also recognise from your emails that there are legitimate areas of concern, both about practices in the sector that you would like to see addressed – and about the legitimacy of the FSCSR itself.
Let me address this latter point first.
Since being appointed as independent chair (and please can I stress the word independent here, as it was the primary criteria informing my original decision to become the chair and it continues to govern the way I engage with the review), I have been genuinely struck by the willingness of the sector to embrace the review without reservation.
Yes, it is true, there are participants in the FSCSR, such as the trade bodies, that have a keen interest in its outcome. But it is also true that they bring expertise, resources and a willingness to be held to account to the table too – and without them, the review would be incomplete, just as it would be if non-affiliated funeral firms like yours had chosen not to engage with our request. It is only by including the views, and securing the support, of the whole sector that we will change things for the better.
It is my experience that funeral firms of all shapes and sizes, ownership structures and operating philosophies are equally capable of offering outstanding service to bereaved families – but also equally capable of offering unacceptable levels of service too. Therefore, no funeral business should consider itself to be above scrutiny. The question is, what kind of scrutiny is appropriate?
To move forward as sector, I really hope funeral directors can set aside their differences and come together to shape a future that is best for bereaved families and one in which all kinds of businesses can thrive. Funeral firms need to demand the very best from themselves and each other, and that can only be achieved by coming together.
Thank you for being willing to contribute. You have my commitment that non-affiliated funeral firms will have clear and consistent opportunities and channels through which to contribute to the review, during the course of the next few months. As a result of the feedback you’ve shared to date, I have decided to extend the planned consultation to include an invitation to each of you to attend either one of two facilitated workshops for non-affiliated funeral firms – locations and dates to be confirmed – but also opportunities to participate remotely/digitally if this is more appropriate. I have asked Natalie McKail, who is chairing the FSCSR working groups, to contact you all to discuss an outline plan and potential dates.
Recognising that some of you may wish to contact me privately, rather than through the FSCSR secretariat, I have also set up firstname.lastname@example.org for your use. Please note, if you contact me personally I will respond as soon as I am able to, but for more practical and urgent matters, email@example.com remains the best method of contacting the review.
I would like to close by reassuring you that this was and remains a genuine invitation to participate. No hidden agenda. Your concerns are valid and I want to hear them. I also want to hear your suggestions too, so please share your views freely, but also give me some constructive suggestions to work with too, so that we can develop a robust and rounded set of proposals that represent the views, needs and aspirations of the whole sector.
I am committed to ensuring that the FSCSR recommends to the CMA a Code of Practice and set of inspection principles that will do justice to the passion for funeral directing which you and others have so eloquently expressed and will ensure that bereaved people are always properly and professionally cared for, no matter what kind of funeral they wish to arrange.
Lewis Shand Smith
Independent Chair, the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review (FSCSR) Steering Committee