National Cremation Investigation: Review by Chief Executive, Aberdeen City Council

Immediately after the publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s report for the Scottish Government, Chief Executive Angela Scott committed to bring a report on Dame Elish’s findings to the August 2016 meeting of Aberdeen City Council.

The Chief Executive’s report has now been published and is available on the Council’s website. Commenting on the contents of the report for consideration by Councillors on 17 August, Angela Scott said:

“When I spoke to the Council in June I said that I fully understand the shock and upset felt by families affected by past practices at the Crematorium and the public wish to be assured that people are held to account for those past practices.

"I promised the Council that the findings of the National Cremation Investigation are being fully and urgently addressed and that a report would be brought to Council in order that members can fully scrutinise the actions of its officers. The report will be considered at the Council meeting on Wednesday.

"On publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s report in June, on behalf of the Council I issued an unreserved apology to those parents who did not receive their baby’s ashes, and to the relatives affected by the practice ended in 2012 of placing baby coffins in the cremator alongside adult coffins. I once again want to say sorry.

"I have consistently stated that the people who are foremost in our minds are of course the parents and families who have been affected by what happened in the past. Following the anonymous allegation, I created a dedicated helpline for any families affected which remains available – the telephone number is 01224 522255.

"Since the publication of Dame Elish’s report I have also met with every family that has asked me to, to hear their concerns and wishes directly. I will continue to meet families on request. My report to council will be sent directly to the families of those affected who have made contact with the council.

"My report also sets out that we have been in contact with a number of support organisations and groups, and there will be full consultation with families to agree on a fitting memorial for all those affected by the issues set out in the report of the National Cremation Investigation.

"At the meeting on Wednesday I will share with members the initial findings of a review of how operational and strategic responsibility had been managed at the Crematorium. The review has been undertaken on my behalf by an experienced former Chief Executive and Associate of SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives).

"The review is part of an ongoing process which has not as yet reached a conclusion, and of necessity the detail set out in the initial findings will be shared with the members on a confidential basis.

"The findings are currently under active consideration and any unauthorised disclosure would potentially breach fair employment practice under employment legislation and the Data Protection Act.

"I also said in June that it was my duty to ensure that I and my senior management team address each recommendation in Dame Elish’s report and ensure that all necessary actions are being or have been taken to improve practice and to rebuild trust in Aberdeen Crematorium. The report I have now submitted identifies the actions we have taken to date to begin that process of restoring trust and confidence. It is necessarily a process driven report but at the heart of this matter are those families affected directly by the historic practices at Aberdeen Crematorium.

"It is important to state at the outset that the report asks council to formally accept in full the findings of both the National Cremation Investigation led by Dame Elish and the findings of the Infant Cremation Commission led by Lord Bonomy.

"The report notes that findings of future inspections by the Inspector of Crematoria Scotland will be reported to the Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee. Any complaints being upheld by the Inspector of Crematoria Scotland will be reported to the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee. It is also recommended that an interagency Bereavement Services Group be established with formal terms of reference.

"Whilst many processes and systems have already been changed to reflect national best practice we have examined each recommendation from all of the relevant national investigations as well as the report received from the Inspector of Crematoria Scotland following his visit to Hazlehead Crematorium in June 2016. All relevant findings and recommendations have been accepted however it should be noted that some recommendations require a change in legislation before they can be actioned.

"The report lists the precise status of our actions against each so for instance for the findings of Lord Bonomy’s Infant Cremation Commission Report of 2014, 33 of 64 recommendations are not for the Council specifically to action. However 26 recommendations have been implemented, 6 are awaiting changes to legislation and 1 is currently being progressed by the council and relates to a memorial. The appendices provide a great deal of detail in order to provide the level of assurance required.

"The report details a number of additional steps that we have recommended to council that are taken to improve the level of assurance in all our Crematorium and Bereavement Services. The report recommends that the Head of Public Infrastructure and Environment develop a suite of compliance measures which would be routinely reported to both the Communities, Housing and Instructure Committee and the Corporate Health and Safety Committee to evidence continued compliance by the crematorium service, as well as performance measures to evidence external comparison where such benchmarks exist.

"This will complement the recommendation to develop an Assurance Map to build a full understanding of which council services are subject to independent external inspection. This work will then inform the council’s internal audit workplan and reported through to the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee.

"Measures recommended also include a more proactive and systematic approach to reviewing service failures across Scotland that might have implications for the operation of our services. If the recommendation is agreed I will task my directors with keeping relevant committees informed about the robustness of our systems and processes to provide increased assurance to elected members and the public in instances of significant failures in local government across Scotland to test the implications for Aberdeen.

"Dame Elish also identified that the culture of management practice and focus were not sufficiently robust to ensure that our customers and service users received services with due care and sensitivity. Since 2014 I have been implementing a culture change programme that places the customer at the heart of how we deliver vital public services. We will change our recruitment processes and review all of HR policies to ensure that this is placed at the very centre of what we do.”