IT HAS now been confirmed that Fife Council's plans to introduce charges for live webcasting of cremation services has been scrapped.

From next Thursday, April Fool’s Day, the council was set to bring in fees for live webcasting of crematoria services in Dunfermline.

As reported in this week's Dunfermline Press, out today, local MSP Annabelle Ewing has described the decision as “really not the right thing to be doing".

And, due to the Press seeking confirmation of the impending charges, Fife Council Labour co-leader Cllr David Ross, had called on the decision to be reversed.

In a statement sent to the Press last night (Wednesday), after our print deadline, he stated: "I understand it is being reported that the council is going to start charging for the streaming of funerals. 

"This is the first I have heard of it and if someone has made this decision then it needs to be reversed immediately.

"At a time when there are tight restrictions on attendance at funerals with all the anguish this causes to those who have lost loved ones, it is ridiculous to think the council should start charging for the online streaming of services which will at least let more people participate in a small way.

"I have taken this up with the Council's chief executive (Steve Grimmond) as a matter of urgency."

Cllr David Barratt announces change of plans

In the past hour, Cllr David Barratt, Convener of the council's Assets and Property Services sub-committee has issued this statement to confirm the charges will not be put in place on April 1.

He said: "Webcasting was introduced as a service in June following significant investment to support families and friends unable to attend funerals during pandemic restrictions. The decision was made for the service to absorb the costs in full for the rest of the financial year. Clearly, the hope had been that restrictions would have been lifted by the new financial year, but when the circumstances that led to the decision to provide the service persist, it is right to extend the measure and to offer live streaming free of charge for as long as restrictions are in place.

"These were operational decisions that only came to my attention this week having been raised by Annabelle Ewing. As Convener of the relevant committee, I have asked for this charge to be removed immediately. The Council has received money to mitigate the impact of Covid restrictions, and I expect the costs associated with this service to be met by that and not from mourning families.

"As the Convenor responsible for this service, I am sorry for any confusion and distress this has caused and I will be discussing with Council Officers and colleagues how this was handled."

He added that he has now confirmed with the service manager that the charges for live streaming have been scrapped.

What were the plans?

Due to the pandemic, coronavirus restrictions limit the number of mourners at funerals in the Kingdom and those unable to attend have been able to watch remotely – for free – since May.

However, that was set to change with a £30 cost for a live showing at the time of the service or £45 for a live service plus access to watch for another 28 days.

A recording of the webcast on DVD, Blu-ray or USB in a presentation case would be available for £50.

The webcast costs was set to be a one-off fee which would provide the host with a password to give out to those who want to watch the service remotely.

Alan Paul, senior manager, had confirmed the council was introducing a charge for the webcasting of funerals from the beginning of April.

He explained: “Introducing charges for the services we provide are never easy decisions to make.

“Our employees in bereavement services have worked hard over the last year to provide the best service possible under the most challenging of circumstances, supporting bereaved families.

“However, we have to invest if we are to continue to improve the services we provide and look after the cemeteries in our care.

“We will continue to work closely with funeral directors to make sure that any families experiencing difficulties with the cost of a funeral are supported.”

The issue was raised to Cowdenbeath MSP Ms Ewing by a local funeral directors.

She told the Press that she had written to the council urging the local authority to rethink the decision and pointed to Perth & Kinross Council, who had agreed not to impose charges for web coverage until after restrictions had been lifted.

“I just feel that surely, at the present time, this is really not the right thing to be doing,” she said.

“Certainly look again once we’re through the pandemic and on the other side in terms of not having such restrictions.

“I think it’s probably a decision that’s been made without thinking through all the ramifications.

“At the present time, I think somebody has just not thought this through – I hope that’s the explanation.”

What had been the case?

The Press reported in May last year that the council had introduced free webcasts of cremation services.

At the time, councillor Craig Walker, convener of the council’s assets, property and facilities committee, said: "We know this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, more so for those who have lost loved ones.

"We realise the current funeral restrictions are extremely tough for bereaved families and we are grateful for their support during these unprecedented times. We are pleased that we are now able to provide this live streaming service for mourners.  

"We hope that this will provide some comfort to families and friends, who will now be able to take up the live-streaming service regardless of their circumstances.

"With many people self-isolating, the new equipment allows them to watch the crematorium funeral service from home.

“We understand the importance of providing this opportunity for families and friends to connect with each other at these most difficult of times."