An open letter to George Tinning, Managing Director, Co-operative Funeralcare

Charles Cowling

 

 

Dear Mr Tinning

I am writing in the aftermath of Undercover Undertaker to proffer an olive branch. The Good Funeral Guide has attempted to talk to Funeralcare in the past and met with no reply. In the best interests of the bereaved, the cause we both have in common, I want you now to consider opening a channel of communication.

For Funeralcare, the transmission of Undercover Undertaker may, as you know, prove to be a ground zero event. It has shattered trust and confidence in a well-loved institution. It must have taken great courage for your staff come to work yesterday. Goodness knows what some of them endured. We felt for them.

Here at the Good Funeral Guide we subscribe to the ideals and goals of co-operation. Indeed, we recently launched an initiative to encourage communities to establish their own funeral co-operatives: www.CommunityFunerals.org.uk. We also recommend Scotmid, an excellent co-operative funeral service in Edinburgh.

We believe the co-operative model has great potential to be pre-eminent in the funeral market. It is because we believe in the co-operative model so strongly that we have been so unfriendly towards Funeralcare. We think that your organisation lost sight of its original purpose and its foundational values. On a commercial level, we have been dismayed that, though the Funeralcare operation enjoys impressive economies of scale, the fruits of these have never been passed on to consumers – which is the whole point of them. We deplore the culture of pressure selling, just one of the factors which has contributed to the ethical ill health of Funeralcare. We knew that it was only a matter of time before Funeralcare would be found out.

As to the concept of the hub, we make no objection in principle so long as it is appointed and staffed in a way which meets the needs, wishes and expectations of clients. There are other consolidated businesses that run perfectly respectable hubs.

Looking to the future, a cleaned up version of the status quo obviously won’t do. Only a return to core values can restore the good name of Funeralcare and, at the same time, bring out the best in your staff, many of whom, as you are well aware, are superb. The upside of catastrophe is that it breeds opportunity.

We don’t expect you to re-vision Funeralcare on our terms, of course, and we don’t ask you to. We ask just two things. First, we ask you to return to the spirit of the Rochdale Principles. Second, we ask you to consider what Terry Leahy has to say in his excellent new book ‘Management in 10 Words’. He talks about the importance of ‘great and noble objectives’. One of his objectives at Tesco was “to create value for customers to earn their lifetime loyalty”. If you translate this idea to the funeral industry you get: “to create funeral experiences for customers to earn their lifelong gratitude”.

I would like to finish by making you an offer. A great many people visit this website, this blog in particular. Doubtless you will, in the coming weeks and months, wish to get messages out to consumers which will restore their faith in Funeralcare. We should be very happy to publicise these for you.

With all best wishes,

Charles

 

Readers interested to discover what Terry Leahy’s 10 words are can find them here

26 thoughts on “An open letter to George Tinning, Managing Director, Co-operative Funeralcare

  1. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    and under the heading of:

    ‘DISTURBING PRACTICES BY LOCAL UNDERTAKER’

    here’s another heart warming story re f’care:-

    http://local.stv.tv/rutherglen/place/1088223-the-co-operative-funeralcare/

    and oh my goodness, there is also this site out there in webland;-

    http://bereavedbeware.co.uk/

    and highlighted in ‘red’ is this addition:-

    “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW EITHER DIGNITY CARING FUNERAL SERVICES OR
    THE CO-OPERATIVE FUNERALCARE TO CONDUCT THE FUNERAL OF ANY OF YOUR LOVED ONES”

    gosh it does seem that there is a problem out there in funeral land

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    yes indeed, let’s not spend toooo much time on replying, after all any contact from a punter could always result in new business…………ahem

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    charles

    There’s a particularly dire example of Funeralcare customer service over at My Last Song – http://blog.mylastsong.com/2012/06/29/co-operative-funeralcare-cant-spell-funeral/


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    and also…………

    I understand that (some) Dignity branches have in the past presented a ‘similar picture’ of the coffins available to clients, (such as was demonstrated in the said documentary) when they meet the client and take instructions………….

    Yes, let’s start halfway through ‘the book’ shall we and not at the beginning/ the cheapest, appeared to be the party line (at that time)

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Hello Charles

    There is another issue which I feel it is appropriate for Mr Tinning to comment on

    C4’s programme ‘exposed’ funeralcare’s selling policies, particularly coffins/caskets – they are also (it seems) big in the floral market too, after all, that does indeed make good business sense

    So there is a fair amount of ‘internal pressure’ on the ‘front line/funeral arranging staff’, which was pretty clear from the programme

    Would Mr Tinning care to let us have details of the type of remuneration received by those ‘front line staff’ and their local/area Managers? Are, for instance they always paid a basic amount and no more or are they part of a business model which rewards staff with bonus(es) based on their performance, perhaps (and in addition to their basic salary)?

    Many of us are/have to be ‘money driven’, particularly in times of a recession, it would only be ‘human nature’ for employee(s) to covet bonuses and to put in ‘the necessary’ to be rewarded

    I sincerely hope that any such bonus(es) are not linked to the ‘price of coffins/caskets sold’, since if they were to be, then this may potentially be taking advantage of the public when they are in a very vulnerable state. Of course this may well not be the case, particularly if f’care could demonstrate that in the majority of cases, clients bought exactly the type of coffin which they had previously had in mind and/or it was part of their initial budget

    Some further food for the proverbial

    yours

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Irene

      Andrew

      Yes, all Co-op staff get bonuses on what they sell, so is it any wonder that they sell, sell, sell to clients.


      Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    …..following my above post and courtesy again of ‘mr google’

    is Mr Steve Pearce mentioned as being very senior at NAFD one and the same person as being ‘Chief Operating Officer for End of Life Services’ (sic) at Southern Co-op?

    see Steve on here:-

    http://thesouthernco-operative.co.uk/Resources/AnnualReview/TSC_Annual_Review_2011.pdf

    and scroll down until the ‘End of Life’ page is reached

    maybe I’m wrong, perhaps there are two Steve Pearce’s involved in the industry at senior management level but maybe…….

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    and on a side issue but neverteless related

    it would be good to hear from anyone with details (and backgrounds) of those senior/board members of the NAFD and their links to their own businesses

    are any of them employed by funeralcare and/or their subsidary Companies and if so (particularly if they are ‘at or near the top of the tree’) should they not contemplate resignation in view of recent developments? In that way, there can be no question of any conflict of interest arising

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    Anyone wanting to hear the context for this video please see the above posts on “fallout 1 and 2”. In a slightly sinister tactical turn, Simon has put this video up on many posts. Andy Coulson anyone?


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Simon Irons

    Searching YouTube to watch the programme again, I came across this video of independent funeral director recommended by this blog

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLYu6K99aA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Now that is shocking !


    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    A Celeb

    I have no reason to disbelieve Mr XX’s friend who tells him it’s business as usual (sell sell sell)for Funeralcare employees. However, I’ve just asked someone who works for Funeralcare what she thought of the Channel 4 programme and she told me she has never been told to sell, sell, sell, nor has she ever been told to ‘hide the basic funeral’ or avoid showing the basic coffin etc. Does it depend on who the area manager is? I hope there is a thorough investigation for the sake of all employees, not least the poor man shown working at the hub who seemed to really care.


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    TonyB

    Andrew: “a massive overhaul of the f’care business to eradicate everything bad which has been highlighted in this blog during the past couple of years. This may be a pipe dream however…………”.

    I know nothing compared with most here, but a couple of years after World in Action slammed SCI/Dignity for similar practices to those shown this week I was talking to an independent FD and made a disparaging comment about them. To my surprise her response was that they had really cleaned up their act following the program – still expensive, but otherwise no better or worse than the average. I don’t know how true this is.


    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    Whether or not the letter will appeal to George Tinning I think he’d have a lot to gain by opening a dialogue with Charles et al. George publicly promised a thorough investigation and if he’s sincere there’s no doubt the GFG could be a useful source of information and engagement. And being seen to take outside advice could be good pr.

    But the first stage in solving a problem is admitting you’ve got one. Not sure co-op are up for that as yet.


    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Simon

    part of what you initially said was:

    “…..No organisation subjected to the unbalanced, misleading and quite frankly laughable ( well it would be if it were not so serious) programme would behave in the way you describe…”

    sorry to say, that from my experience of the non-funeral business as well, sadly they would and do do so

    yours

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Hello Omega – I can see how you could arrive at that opinion. And you, Ken. Your response reminds me of the early days of women’s lib. You’d hold a door open and let a woman go first and she’d hiss ‘Don’t patronise me!’ It is meant sincerely, though, and not to humiliate. There’s already been enough of that. If there is to be consolidation in the industry, a well-run co-op is, in my view, our best hope.

    It’s been observed that other big businesses have escaped criticism. Well, one thing at a time. In many ways they are blameless according to the capitalist context in which they operate. Dignity, for example, makes as much money as it can. From a shareholder perspective it’s a very good thing. From a consumer perspective it is overpriced and therefore a bad thing. That’s why we’re against it. We have other criticisms, too, but you can’t apply the same moral standards. Dignity plays by the rules of the market. Funeralcare aspires to play by the rules of the broadly anti-capitalist Rochdale Pioneers.

    We don’t preach DIY. We simply make information available and let people decide what’s best for them. As to your observations about two of our recommended funeral directors, while I believe the vast majority to be beyond reproach, I acknowledge that there is probably truth in what you say.

    Do keep commenting. We all learn from what you say.


    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Not that this excellent blog needs any defending, but the hostility in a couple of the above comments rather vindicates Charles’ policy of stimulating debate and provoking discussion, to see what comes out. Anyone who thinks Charles is “crowing” about all this is not, I reckon, thinking very clearly.

    And this blog has never limited its concerns to large organisations, merely to bad practice wherever it is found. It’s also, in case you hadn’t noticed, about more than funeral directors and their doings. And at least this “minority group” is actually concerned about the British way of death, and exploring how that may develop, rather than the funeral “industry.”


    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    Omega

    I think you may of scored a own goal with that letter Charles.
    It was terribly condescending and possibly not the best way to try and communicate.
    No doubt a letter appreciated by the CCFC though.


    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    David

    Sorry Simon I can’t disagree with you more about regulation of funeral service. First of all there is not a chance that the government would put a large part of the market out of business with draconian regulations, and secondly regulation would not cure the problems.

    The U.S. is highly regulated and they have far more scandals than we do which are usually a lot worse in nature than ours. The other outcome of regulation is that the consumer would ultimately pay for it making funerals more expensive.


    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling
    Ken Davis

    My view, for what it is worth, is that the open letter is more than a little patronising.Whilst I have only just discovered the site, I have read much of the historical stuff and I fail to understand why you single out large organisations for criticism. As I have said previously, as a trade embalmer, I have been appalled at some privately owned firm’s standards( Two of whom I note are on your list of recommended funeral firms).

    Do you truly believe that a minority group such as you are will change the British way of death ? the Dispatches programme was a triumph for you and it seems that the crowing may be lengthy but I cant see it will change the fact that many people are very willing to engage a Co-op undertaker and will continue to do so. It may be a bitter pill, but many people do not want to DIY and are happy to pay someone else to do things which they find unpalatable. You can save a lot of money by drilling and filling your own teeth, but most folk pay someone to do it for them.
    In closing, someone said that the big firms are opening new branches. Typical of a shrinking market, existing participants will look to expand to retain market share. i would not be surprised if either the Co-op or dignity launch a no frills, very cheap , easy jet type product which may attract new custom. Who knows, the new branches may be simply pathfinders to that concept ?
    Be careful what you wish for.


    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    Simon Irons

    You have all missed the point, the comment on crashing and burning is in relation to a move to a regulated industry and was not meant to sound arrogant, I actually work for an independent!

    I firmly believe that the vast majority of Independent firms will have no way of coping if the profession were to become regulated and this exposé on Funeralcare will move us all a step closer to this.

    It’s just a prediction but I already hear of some small firms closing up because of all the Health and Safety regulations etc and that will not be the half of it.


    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Mr XX

    Simon I am reporting only what I heard. I have 100% faith in my Funeralcare colleague. I’m afraid their is no chance of my naming her.

    Your prediction of independent’s ‘crashing and burning’ is laughable. In my experience, most are sincere people running first class businesses. They have the necessary equipment and charge less too.

    On two issues we can agree. Funeralcare are not the only big business to operate like this. In that respect they can feel hard done by. Regulation would certainly benefit the larger firms. It has long been their dream to put-off new start operators, often ex-employees. Thankfully this will never happen. The government has no appetite for further regulation of business. Indeed they claim to want to reduce it.


    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Hello Charles

    in the absence of no one having yet come forward, this is an excellent letter and a very well though of approach as well

    funeralcare will be here to stay (that’s for sure), what I’m looking forward to, which I suspect is the same as you, is a massive overhaul of the f’care business to eradicate everything bad which has been highlighted in this blog during the past couple of years. This may be a pipe dream however………….There is more than ‘enough profit’ available within this organisation to take steps to remove all of those bad practices

    best regards

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Mr XX

    well internal morale clearly needs to be maintained………

    but nevertheless there is a slight whiff of arrogance in that stance

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Simon

    I just cannot see family outfits turning out to be ‘crash and burn’ cases, they have far more realistic views on their own abilities, which f’care and Dignity do not have – the possibility that f’care and Dignity will be all mighty is frankly extremely unlikely imo

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  24. Charles Cowling
    Simon Irons

    Mr xxx
    I do not believe that for one moment and I bet you can’t name a manager or location……… No organisation subjected to the unbalanced, misleading and quite frankly laughable ( well it would be if it were not so serious) programme would behave in the way you describe.

    I truly hope that this will bring forward regulation, questions have already been submitted to the house, SAIF are already running scared thinking that regulation will follow as are the NAFD as the future of the majority of Independent will be in serious doubt as they could not hope to administer themselves in regulated business let alone comply !

    The perversity is that dignity and the coops could easily manage under regulation I doubt they will be wanting to buy businesses they will just open up new ones and let the family businesses crash and burn.

    Are already seeing both of the above on massive new branch opening programmes with dignity going public with their strategy nd you only have to look in the FSJ to see just how many are being opened.


    Charles Cowling
  25. Charles Cowling
    Mr XX

    It’s a good offer.

    But my pal, who is employed by Funeralcare claimed at a scheduled meeting with a Regional manager on Tuesday morning she was told it was business as usual. Her boss said they expected short-term damage, but to push hygienic treatment and flowers. All her existing targets stand.

    Unless the lines of communication are very obstructed, I think some may conclude that Funeralcare just don’t get it.


    Charles Cowling

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