We were pleased to receive an e-mail recently advising us that the National Association of Funeral Directors has appointed an interim CEO, some four months since the role became vacant.
It’s been quite a while without a steady hand at the NAFD tiller, and taking on the tasks that would normally be the responsibility of the CEO must have been immensely demanding on the current president, Alison Crake, her vice presidents and the officer team. We’re sure that they are all very pleased to have the esteemed Graham Lymn come on board to step into the empty CEO shoes, albeit temporarily.
As part of his role, Mr. Lymn will be ’assisting the Officer team with recruitment of a permanent incumbent and providing an extensive handover, enabling the new recruit to quickly understand the unique challenges of the funeral industry.’
We presume that this won’t take up all of Mr. Lymn’s time over the next six to nine months, so, from an interested outside observer’s point of view, we’d like to offer some suggestions of other areas that we think would be really productive for him to focus on, to help make the ‘Voice of the Profession’ relevant in today’s rapidly changing world of funerals.
- The All Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement. Open this up to others, not just the NAFD and their paid secretariat, Brevia. In an age when there are so many challenges facing bereaved people and the funeral profession, it is completely wrong that the only group in Parliament discussing these subjects is controlled and dominated by a single organisation, representing the interests of funeral directors. There needs to be collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure bereaved people are better served.
- The NAFD Code of Practice. Develop a code of practice that truly benefits clients of NAFD members. Areas to cover? A clear stance on price comparison websites, and a definition of a ‘simple funeral’ that all members should be required to offer as a start.
- The NAFD complaints procedure: Give teeth to this for clients who have been poorly served by members. How many companies have had their membership suspended or revoked after serious complaints? If this sanction is not ever applied, then the complaints procedure is pretty pointless.
- Show leadership. Stop sitting on the fence on big issues, whether relating to transparency of ownership, new entrants to the sector (e.g. local authorities and hospices), direct cremation specialists or funeral poverty. Also, members having prices available online – the NAFD stated hope for 70% of NAFD members to have some or all their prices online by 2019 is pitiful, it should be 100%, this year.
- Introduce external expertise on its executive committee to help it develop a conversation with the wider public and understand the world beyond the narrow focus of practicing funeral directors.
- Develop a new vision for the Social Fund Funeral Payment. Repeated statements calling for an increase in the payment may ease the association’s conscience but do nothing to help people struggling to pay for a funeral. A new solution is needed. The NAFD is well-placed to lead on this.
- Look at membership fees. Expecting a self-employed celebrant to pay the same full fees for supplier membership (currently £455 p.a.) as coffin manufacturing companies and large groups of private cemeteries is completely unrealistic. To build a broad supporter base, engaging individuals from all areas involved with provision of funerals, a tiered system of membership fee is long overdue. Alongside this, monitoring the unauthorised use of the NAFD supplier logo by individual members of organisations (who haven’t paid for the membership themselves) would also be welcomed.
- Introduce an assistance fund. A levy on NAFD membership and income from other events such as NFE could pay into an assistance fund for families struggling to meet the cost of paying for a funeral. (This could be administered by a new member of staff, whose salary could be found by ending the payment to Brevia for running the APPG secretariat and opening attendance to other organisations who could contribute towards the funding of the APPG.)
- Create a robust framework that would safeguard the association and its staff and members from falling victim to personal agendas and vested interests. For example, putting a limit on terms for voluntary officers to prevent trenchant points of view dominating the association’s conversations with external parties.