Council shuts cemeteries due to staff shortages


UK – Burials will only take place on two days over the next three weeks as Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council struggles with staffing issues.

Grieving relatives could face weeks of delays in burying their deceased loved ones after a shortage of staff led a council to temporarily shut down its cemeteries.

Burials will only take place on two days over the next three weeks at cemeteries run by Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council as it reshuffles its funeral services to cope with staffing issues caused by sickness, holiday entitlements and employee departures.

About 10 burials usually take place in the borough’s eight cemeteries every week, although that number can vary widely, a council spokesman said.

Funeral directors are concerned that they will have a backlog of bodies. Tim McGough, president of the Stoke-on-Trent and district funeral directors association, said he understood that only five interments could take place on each day the cemeteries were open.

However, the council has said that burial slots were still available on the days that the cemeteries are open and that there is a good chance a backlog could be avoided.

Nevertheless, McGough, who runs a funeral directors in Stoke-on-Trent, called the closures disappointing. “The people I feel sorry for are anybody who has lost a loved one and they haven’t been able to arrange a burial,” he said.

“There’s bound to be a backlog at some point. You could be looking at a delay of four to five weeks before you bury your loved one.”

Although the impact of the closures had not yet had an effect on his business, McCough said he and other undertakers in the area faced storing the bodies until the council was ready to fully reopen its cemeteries.

McCough, who has grown up in the family business, said the situation was almost unprecedented, adding: “The only time I’ve ever known anything like this was during strikes. I’ve never known any local authority to shut down the cemeteries simply because of lack of staff.

“It’s going to be stressful for the people I’m working for. It’s a very sad situation.”

Under the restrictions, which last until 21 October, there will be no burials at cemeteries in Kidsgrove, Audley, Chesterton, Keele, Knutton, Madeley, Newcastle and Silverdale, except on Monday 5 October and Monday 12 October.

The local crematorium, at Bradwell, will remain open as usual during the period, except on those days when the cemeteries are open, when the staff who are available will be transferred to oversee interments.

Cllr Ann Beech, the council’s cabinet member responsible for cemeteries and crematoria, said: “We have some short-term staffing issues which mean we have had to put temporary measures in place but I would stress this is only for a limited period of time and our normal service will be resumed shortly. We apologise for any inconvenience this situation has caused.

“At the moment, not all of the burial times available have been booked so we are hopeful we can avoid creating any backlogs.”

Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council faces slashing £2.1m from its books in 2016. However, a council spokesman insisted that the problems were not a result of budget cuts.