COUNCIL officers have been given the freedom to vary cremation charges by up to 25 per cent – and charges for leisure services by up to 20 per cent.
In theory it could see the cost of a cremation in Redditch vary by as much as £350 from £875 to £525, according to the discretion of a borough officer.
However in practice, the authority’s Leader, Councillor Matt Dormer (Con, West) said the policy was aimed at many of the add-ons Redditch crematorium offers, like global online access to a particular funeral, although he did not rule out reducing funeral costs in the case of hardship.
“We have got to give our officers the flexibility to be more commercially minded,” he said.
Deputy Leader Coun David Thain (Con, West) added: “This is not to give officers carte blanche to make a fast buck, but there is a lot of demand for what we do and we think due to the demand and the good service we provide we could in some instances up the price by say ten per cent.
“Previously, to do that, the officer would have to call a meeting and this does away with that it gives them the freedom to act commercially but still be accountable.”
With regards to leisure services, Coun Dormer said officers could offer cheaper rates at less popular times.
“With a pitch at the Abbey Stadium, daytime Monday to Friday few people want to use it, so there has got to be an incentive,” he said.
“For a five-a-side from 7pm to 9pm that’s a popular time and we should have the flexibility to charge a little bit more.”
The measures were pushed through at Monday evening’s full council meeting on January 20.
Coun Bill Hartnett (Lab, Church Hill) said people would simply not know what the prices would be because they could vary at the discretion of a council officer.
“With the crematorium charges they are trying to recoup the £74,000 in income they lost when they abolished Labour’s planned increases in crematorium charges.
“They called our measure a ‘death tax’ and they reduced charges to two per cent – and now they introduce this,” he said.
“For both the crematorium and leisure services there will be no fixed prices; it will be like going into a shop and finding a chocolate bar is £1 for one customer and £1.25 for another and 75p for a third.
“Overall, with these policies and increases in Shopmobility, Dial-A-Ride and the Voluntary Community Sector they are targeting the most vulnerable people in this town.”