Category Archives: Co-operative Funeralcare

The Co-op is dying, long live the co-op

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Outside a Co-operative Funeralcare funeral home


“Every private equity company in the country has been in touch to try and buy its funerals operation.” Lord Myners

  In recent times the Co-op’s reputation has been kept afloat by sentiment fostered by its of-the-people-for-the-people origins, fortified by ‘ethical values’ and holier-than-thou policies on fair trade. Fondness has blinded people who should know better to its executive infirmities. Scarcely a day goes by without the announcement of fresh horror at the top. And the bad news stories about Funeralcare just keep on coming:




With a £2 billion loss behind it for the last year alone, and strife at the top, the viability of the ‘Group’ is now in doubt.

The GFG has earned a fair amount of hate mail for the way it has campaigned against Co-op Funeralcare. We’ve done so more in sorrow than in anger. No need for a detailed analysis of where it all went wrong, the bare bones tell the story.

Funeralcare offers a very poor deal to funeral shoppers — something all the sentimentalists who’ve tenaciously viewed the Co-op through hogwash-smeared spectacles must now acknowledge. At a time of funeral poverty and ever-rising costs its social purpose seems to have gone AWOL, the pursuit of profit remaining its sole purpose.

The predicament of the Co-op Group is dire. If things don’t get better the Co-op’s banks will have no option but to seize its assets and sell them off. Funeralcare remains vulnerable therefore to circling venture capitalists (see quote above). Under new management it could relaunch as a corporate predator — a dreadful legacy. 

And a harsh but necessary lesson for all those sentimentalists who suppose that a co-op is intrinsically better equipped to do business than a plc. The lesson we must hope they have learned is that there is no point in trading as a co-operative if you can’t get a better deal for your customers. If you can’t do that, your co-operative is a failure no matter what ethical values it signs up to.

The good news is that if any activity lends itself to a social enterprise business model it is the provision of funerals. No other model can compete. One of these days someone is going to get it right (and Dignity is going to go to the wall). Whether it’s member-owned or worker-owned, it’ll do more than walk like a co-op and talk like a co-op, it’ll act like a co-op.

FOOTNOTE: The GFG does not seek to make a name for itself by naffing people off. We exist to look for good news wherever we can find it and put bereaved people in touch with the best suppliers of goods and services. We like the co-operative model so much we even developed our own — here

We screwed up, confesses the Co-op

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Screenshot 2014-02-20 at 16


To Nick Goodway in the London Evening Standard it looks more like a ‘massive public relations exercise than a genuine “want to know what you think”.’  He’s talking about the Co-op’s Have Your Say survey, now under way, which gives you the chance to tell ‘the Group’ what you think of it. Yes, the top chaps at the Co-op acknowledge that

… it’s time to change. But not until we’ve heard what you have to say. That’s because making decisions with you, not for you, remains at the very heart of everything we do. It’s the co-operative way. We want your views on a range of topics, from how we source our products to our work in the community. 

Group chief executive Euan Sutherand, confesses that the Co-op has “lost touch with its customers and members and the communities in which it operates . . . We haven’t been listening.” It’s the sort of statement of total failure you might expect to hear from a business going into liquidation. 

But Sutherland denies that asking the public for guidance is an indicator of cluelessness. In the FT he is quote as saying: “It doesn’t mean we are not leading. I came in and fired the entire executive team across the group and the bank in three weeks, recapitalised the bank and identified that we needed to bring the cost base down by £500m … We need to stop copying the purely commercial model – the plc model – and start to do things that are right for us as a co-op. We’ve been through huge trauma . . . but have an opportunity to be different.”

Absent from the discussion, so far as we can see, is any mention of member control.

Here at the GFG we’re not going to fill in the survey, even though that means passing up a chance of winning a Panasonic HD LED TV. Mr Tinning and his people know exactly what we think of them and this has earned us their detestation. Ach, you can only do your best.

We have only one piece of further advice to offer  The Co-op. Intervene in the market in the best interests of your members. Simples. Get the prices and service right, cut out the upselling, excise all incompetence and only then agonise over what you’re going to do with your profits.

Hat-tip to SL

The only way is Ethics?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Screenshot 2013-11-23 at 17

The Co-operative — What Makes Us Different


“I sometimes wonder if the greatest institutional problem of our time is not plain, unvarnished evil, but this obsession with Ethics as an outward form, with compliance rather than conscience. The whole idea of an Ethical business, as distinct from a normal one which behaves ethically, is flawed. Today, business after business, organisation after organisation, babbles about corporate responsibility, transparency, openness, saving the planet etc. Like executive versions of the Pharisees, they proclaim, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” Later, expensively, we discover that they are as other men are, or even a bit worse; and for some reason we are surprised.”

Charles Moore here

Why the shambles at the Co-op is so serious

Wednesday, 20 November 2013



One version of the “better” that mutuals have to be is that they have to be seen by customers to be more “decent” than other businesses – because that provides a motive for some consumers to spend their money with them.

And the second version of the better is that they have to be conspicuously competent.

It won’t have escaped your notice that the appointment as Co-op Bank’s chairman of a former local councillor with an apparent taste for hard drugs, a history of downloading porn on to a municipally owned computer and – by his own admission – limited knowledge of modern banking, somewhat undermines Co-op’s claims to be better than the rest in both those important senses.

Which is why Co-op Group’s review of its internal democratic system, that allowed the Rev Flowers to bloom quite so lustrously in the organisation, will have an important bearing on whether co-ops and mutuals will continue to be an important part of the UK’s mixed economy.

Robert Peston


In 2007 The Co-operative Board de-recognised GMB after more than 100 years, terminating a relationship that went back to the 19th Century Victorian era. This was a sad day for democracy, Trade Union rights and ethics given the background of The Co-operative movement, a group owned by its members which claims to be ‘Different.’

The Co-operative then found itself ostracised form the wider TUC movement … banned from TUC and Labour Party Conferences, Tolpuddle Martyrs festival, Workers Beer events, Wortley Hall and a whole host of other events and activities where they had been previously welcomed.

Statement from the GMB union



Tom Quixote

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tom Quixote from Matthew Hayes on Vimeo.



Family funeral director Tom Crean has spent the last 30 years tilting at windmills. Tom Quixote tells the story of his struggle against the corporate takeover of the North American funeral industry, during which he has had a run-in with Hollywood, saved a cemetery and beaten the conglomerates at their own game.

WINNER – Best Film (Jury Selection) – 2013 Annapolis Valley Short Film Festival
WINNER – Best Screenplay – 2013 Annapolis Valley Short Film Festival

Will The Co-operative Group throw Funeralcare to the wolves?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

funeral-directors-hampshire (1)


On 2 July this year the Co-operative Group’s executive team visited Rochdale. The chief exec, Euan Sutherland, tweeted: “Spent the day at Rochdale Pioneers Museum with the Exec immersing ourselves in Co-operative heritage. Fantastic, inspirational, relevant”.

All very heartening if you’re one of those who inclines to the view that capitalism is essentially sociopathic, and that therein lie the seeds of its destruction. 

Disillusionment with capitalism does not in itself boost the credentials of co-operation. The history of consumer co-operatives is not especially glorious. They tend to start well then lose their way, demutualise, play copy-fatcat.

The history of worker co-operatives shines more brightly — as John Lewis and Waitrose testify.

Ethical values in themselves are no determinants of commercial fertility. The history of ethical values demonstrates that, actually, they are best exemplified by those people who renounce material things. Had Gandhi been driven everywhere in a Rolls Royce and dressed in a Prada suit, the story of Indian independence would read otherwise.

For this reason, the words ‘ethical business’, attractive as they are, have something of the flavour of an oxymoron.

But this is what The Co-operative Group claims to be, ethical, never more stridently than in recent weeks from amidst the twisted wreckage of its wretched bank. It is now 70 per cent owned by its creditors, including a bunch of American hedge funds. Rather than die of shame it instead proclaims new life: “By continuing to have regard for the highest standards of ethical principles we are more committed than ever to ensuring the Co-operative Bank remains just as special for years to come.”

Ethical schmethical. The bank has lost the title to call itself a co-operative in the sense of a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. To call itself co-operative is now patently misleading and is rightly being legally challenged.

Where did it all go wrong for The Co-operative Group (as opposed to co-operative values)? The Daily Telegraph reports ceo Euan Sutherland conceding with refreshing honesty that “the organisation has lost it way, and, referencing the founding Rochdale Pioneers, that its recent controversial history was not what the organisation was set up for.” You can easily see the shades of the Pioneers nodding in sorrowful assent.

Whether or not, fuelled by the Rochdale Principles, The Co-op can in the future succeed in its core mission of enabling working people to buy those things that they would otherwise be unable to afford we shall have to wait and see. We simply note that, at a time when there is increasing anxiety about funeral poverty, Co-operative Funeralcare has offered no lead and generated no initiatives. Nothing.

The Pioneers surely would have.

Having said all of which, it may already be too late to lose any more sleep over the way Funeralcare has fallen short of — betrayed, some would say — its ethical values. Because it’s beginning to look as if, in order to bring the Group back into profitability, The Co-operative Group may be about to shed its funerals operation and throw it to the capitalists. The same Telegraph article tells us:

Mr Sutherland, who took control of the mutual from May 1, said that in order to reduce the current £1.3bn bank debt, it must look to productivity, efficiency, and selling some of its assets. Divisions which will not be sold include its food retail business and its pharmacy business, it is understood. Non-core arms are thought to include the funeral business and its security business, but Mr Sutherland would not comment further.

Given the deep loathing with which the top chaps at Funeralcare regard the GFG (good morning, Mr Tinning), we can forgive you for supposing that we’d celebrate this with a day at the races. But we emphatically wouldn’t. First, our politics here are pink. Second, we’d deplore the impact of this on the many excellent people in Funeralcare, especially on the shop floor (not the management). When Sutherland talks of productivity and efficiency, he’s using the language of the time and motion man. We can only imagine the effect that ‘efficiencies’ are having on good men and women right now.

Third, we regard the funerals business as pre-eminently suited to a social enterprise business model. We’d like to see Funeralcare given another chance to get it right and be what it says on its tin.

The Sunday Times has been told by Sutherland that “every private equity group in Europe” wants to buy Funeralcare, but that he is not minded to sell.

Time will tell. The man needs to find £500 million fast. If he’s minded to sell, let him talk to an excellent worker’s co-operative that we’ve long thought would make a very good fist of it. Tune in, please, John Lewis. 

You’ve been ad

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Coop ad


How good to see three local family undertakers in Devon club together to advertise themselves. Really nice, professional piece of work — proper job as they say down there. (Click it to make it bigger.) 

(First one of you wins a cigar)

Vultures circle over Funeralcare

Wednesday, 7 August 2013



From Sky News: 

The Co-operative Group has rebuffed a string of takeover approaches for its funerals arm amid a controversial restructuring of its troubled banking division.

Sky News has learnt that buyout firms including CVC Capital Partners, the controlling shareholder of Formula One motor racing, and Montagu Private Equity, a former owner of the Dignity funeral planning business, are among a large number of parties to have expressed an interest in acquiring the Co-op unit in recent weeks.

The prospective buyers have all been rebuffed by the Co-op, whose new chief executive, Euan Sutherland, has made it clear that he does not want to part with any of the mutual’s “crown jewel” assets.

The precise value of the Co-op Funeralcare business is unclear, but analysts expect that it would be worth hundreds of millions of pounds if it were to be sold.





A Co-op good news story

Saturday, 27 July 2013



You may remember the case of Lisa Mullan, whose father chose to be buried at Crossways woodland burial site but, because of an administrative muddle, ended up being buried somewhere else. 

We’ve just heard some good news from Lisa.

Co-operative Funeralcare sector manager Jack Walsh subsequently invited Lisa’s mother to a meeting. There, he gave her £200 (the 20% admin charge retained by Martin Chatfield of Crossways); a written apology; and a bunch of flowers. Lisa’s mother has donated the £200 to the North Wales Mountain Rescue in honour of her husband. 

Well done, Co-op! We hope that Lisa’s family will now be able to grieve her father freed from the distress brought on by the way his funeral arrangements had been handled. 

ED’S NOTE: We understand from Martin Chatfield, at Crossways, that he has not yet had any contact from the Co-op. To his costs were added, you may remember, the cost of cutting his holiday short, including unused accommodation and a special flight home. We very much hope that the Co-op will attend to him next. 

How they wear you down

Sunday, 16 June 2013

I first heard from Lisa Mullan when she wrote to me on 23 Feb 2013: 

My father was told he had terminal lung cancer in May 2012 and had around 6 months to live. He subsequently purchased a Funeral Care Plan from the Cooperative Funeral Care, Plympton, Devon and requested he be buried at the Crossways Woodland Burial site. A Mr Richard Parson, Hub manager of the branch, sent my father’s cheque off to Mr Chatfield [the owner of Crossways] to purchase a plot in May. 
When my father sadly passed away in November, my mother and sister went to the funeral home to be told my father did not have a plot. The confusion had arisen as Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not confirm the purchase and also Mr Chatfield was also away on holiday and could not be instantly contacted. This was Tuesday 6th November. Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm. This would have been seen by the Coop staff on the Friday morning at open of business.
On that Friday my mother popped in to the branch to ask if they had heard anything from Crossways. The Coop version of events differs slightly with each telling and currently stands that my mother was told Crossways had not confirmed and to take the weekend to visit both it and another burial ground at Yealmpton and decide where she would like to bury my father.
On the Monday my mother rang the Coop again for news on whether they had heard anything from Crossways and was told that they had not but the funeral could be postponed. We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements. My mother panicked and, gently guided by the Coop staff, she opted to book a plot in Yealmpton where the subsequent funeral was held and where my father now lies. 
In dismay at the lack of communication from Crossways, my sister took the time to find out their governing body and wrote a complaint to the Natural Death Centre. We were then shocked to discover that Crossways had indeed confirmed all arrangements and we had not been informed. 
To further complicate matters, Mr Chatfield had been away on holiday and his return flight was hit by a baggage handlers strike, so he had to pay to fly back earlier than scheduled with another airline. 
I am currently in discussions with the Coop. Initially after a face to face meeting with Mr Parson I was reimbursed the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to take him to Crossways and was also expecting communication from him regarding exactly what had happened and how this miscommunication had come about. My mother received the money, but I heard nothing from him regarding the circumstances in which the lack of information had taken place. I then wrote to him again and asked to be reimbursed for the 20% administration fee Crossways charged on the refunded monies for the plot, an apology for my mother and the £300 for Mr Chatfield’s flight.  I have since been in contact with the regional manager, Mr Adrian Smart, and am waiting for him to provide me with details of his manager. Needless to say, all requests have so far been refused.
This whole situation is a cause of stress and upset to myself and my family and also to Mr Chatfield who has lost out financially but also has a complaint against his name and reputation. 


I replied with what I hope was helpful advice and a warning that the process of seeing the complaint through was likely to be drawn out. 


On 16 May Lisa wrote to individual senior managers at Funeralcare in Manchester and informed them, among other things, that: 


I am seeking to recover costs … and as your Regional Manager has failed to attend to the matter in nearly four months, I appeal to you to take this further. 


Lisa sent the senior managers a timeline: 


24th May 2012: My father paid for a Tailor Made Funeral Care Plan at the Co-op Funeralcare in Plympton, Devon (hereafter known as Plympton). His contact was Hub Manager Mr Richard Parson. His wish was to be buried at the Crossways Burial Ground in Okehampton (hereafter known as Crossways) and Mr Parson sent a cheque for £835 to pay for the plot to Mr Martin Chatfield on his behalf. The “Grave Details” specify Crossways.


25 May 2012: Payment for plot received by Crossways.


6th November 2012, 0140: My father died.  0900: My mother received a call from Plympton inviting her to come in.  10.00: My mother and sister attended this appointment and were assisted with information pertaining to administration of a late relative. They also discussed initial funeral arrangements and were informed my father did not have a plot booked. Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not clarify the situation and unfortunately so was Mr Chatfield. Apparently repeated attempts to contact him by Plympton were unsuccessful. pm: My sister managed to speak to Mr Chatfield who would contact the UK to check plot status. Stiil no contact between Mr Chatfield and Plympton.

7th November 2012, 1245: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting he inform them of plot status.

8th November 2012, 1231: Email from Mr Chatfield to Plympton stating the existence of a plot for my father and potential accommodation of a funeral any time after 18th November 2012. 1353: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting a burial at 1245 on 20th November 2012. 18.16: Reply from Mr Chatfield to Plympton confirming time and place of burial. 

9 November 2012, 0900: My mother pops into Plympton. It is suggested she look at both Crossways and a burial site at Yealmpton, Devon (hereafter known as Yealmpton) over the weekend and inform Plympton of her decision on the Monday. As far as she is aware, funeral arrangements are for 20th November 2012 but contact with Crossways has not yet been established.

10-11 November 2012: The family inform relatives and friends that the funeral would be held on 20th November 2012

12 November 2012, 1100: My mother speaks to Plympton to be told there is still no word from Crossways but the funeral could be postponed until they had. Various: Phone records show several phone calls to myself and my sister from my mother. Unfortunately no one was home to take them. Midday: My mother confirms with Plympton that the burial should be moved to Yealmpton and agrees to pay an extra £950 for the plot and grave digging. 1451: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield informing him of my mother’s decision and requesting a full refund of the £835 my father paid for the plot. 0900: Mr Chatfield paid £300 to a second airline and started returning to the UK two days premature of his original departure date due to an unforeseen baggage handlers strike with his original airline. 2100: Mr Chatfield discovered the email from Plympton cancelling the burial.

13 November 2012: Mr Chatfield spoke to Mr Parson to express his displeasure but promised to refund the plot money minus a 20% administration fee.

20 November 2012: My father’s funeral at Plympton and Burial in Yealmpton. The requested donations box was not present before or after the service in Plympton.

25 November 2012, 1552: Email from my sister, Caroline Fielden, to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre to complain about Mr Chatfield’s conduct in not contacting Plympton to arrange the burial at Crossways that my father had requested and paid for.

27 November 2012, 1245: Email from Rosie Inman-Cook to my sister informing her that Mr Chatfield had indeed confirmed the burial, returning early due to the aforementioned strike to be present.

29 November 2012, 1941: My sister forwarded to email from Rosie Inman-Cook to Plympton and requested sight of emails from 7th and 8th November to confirm this. She never received a reply.

Early December 2012: I was informed of the above and agreed to take it further. I arranged to meet Mr Parson on a trip to Plympton that month. I also rang Mr Chatfield who immediately forwarded the pertinent emails from 7th and 8th November.

12 December 2102, 1230: Meeting with Mr Parson to explain entire incident. He claimed not to be aware of any of it and needed to speak to his staff. We arranged a further meeting for the following day. There were several points regarding anecdotal evidence that Plympton had been rather persuasive in steering my mother to use Yealmpton and not Crossways for the burial.

13 December 2012, 0900: Second meeting with Mr Parson. We discussed various anecdotal evidence. He did not, however, say he had discovered exactly why my mother had not been informed that Mr Chatfield had confirmed the time and date of the burial. This, in my mind was the sole reason for reconvening the meeting. Mr Parson agreed to reimburse the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to drive to Crossways, offered to help me with full reimbursement from Crossways should they refuse and let me know via email exactly how the confusion had arisen.

End December 2012: A cheque for £112 was sent to my mother to reimburse mileage.

4 January 2013, 2207: Email from me to Mr Parson explaining my disappointment at not hearing from him regarding the confusion.

7 January 2013, 0813:  Email from Mr Parson to me stating he thought we had sorted the problem and when he would be contactable by phone.

7-9 January 2103, various: Tried to contact Mr Parson by phone but to no avail.

9 January 2013, 2133: Email from me to Mr Parson requesting Plympton reimburse the 20% Crossways administration fee, issue a full apology to my mother and reimburse Mr Chatfield the £300 he was obliged to pay to return to the UK.

11 January 2013, 1020: Email from Mr Parson re-stating that Plympton were not at fault. Inclusion of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme Leaflet.

12 January 2013, 1943: Email to Mr Parson stating that I will be taking the matter further.

13 January 2013, 0900: Phone call to Co-op Funeral Care Customer services. Matter discussed with the member of staff who sent the mileage cheque to my mother. 1700: Contact from Mr Adrian Smart, Regional Manager overseeing Plympton. He promises to investigate the issue and phone back. 

18 January 2013, 1713: Email from Mr Smart. Attached letter details incident as he has understood it and the Arbitration leaflet. An apology was made for contacting my mother so soon after my father’s death but not for withholding information from Crossways.

10 February 2013, 2114: Reply to Mr Smart detailing the reasons I believe my mother was misled by Co-op staff.

11 February 2013, 0944: Reply from Mr Smart stating he cannot respond at this particular time but I will hear from him in due course. I have never heard from him or anybody else from the Co-op again.

Today, 16 June 2013, I received the following from Lisa: 

Hi Charles, 

I have reached an impasse with the Co-op. They insist on concentrating on the Tuesday (my father died) and the Friday (where they reckon they told my mother about Crossways, but really all they seem to have done is told her to visit both plots) and not on the following Monday (when she was told they still hadn’t heard from Crossways and the funeral could be postponed). Jack Walsh (the sector manager) has offered to pay 10% of the Crossways admin fee as apparently they have communication from Martin Chatfield stating as much, even though we only received 80% reimbursement (not that I begrudge Martin the 10% as he is out of pocket too). 
Jack Walsh is apparently now writing to my mother about his findings and it will be interesting to see what happens there. However, I would now like you to, if you can and want to, publish our story.
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