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Austerity-Strapped Southwark Blowing Millions on Burial Plots

13 February 2017

Southwark Council is spending public money on its burial service like there’s no tomorrow.

Southwark Council’s 2017-18 budget will slash social care, children’s services and other services by more than £25M. Southwark is also planning a Council Tax rise of 5%, including 3% to cover costs of much-needed adult social care.

But the inner London Borough is spending millions subsidising ‘new’ burial plots over the dead in the Camberwell Cemeteries. Subsidies per plot are at least £1,000 and quite possibly £3,000 or more in real terms.

Southwark Council quotes £5.2Million as the total cost of its ‘sustainable’ burial strategy.

But this is a 2011 estimate and only relates to initial developments for fewer than 5,000 burial plots, a subsidy of more than £1,000 per plot.

How much is Southwark actually spending on burial in the Camberwell Cemeteries while slashing other vital services by £25M or more?

No-one – not even the Council itself – seems to know. Up-to-date figures have never been released despite repeated requests from residents direct to the councillor responsible for the burial service Ian Wingfield and via the Burial Stakeholder Group.

Even a basic calculation shows millions are missing from 2011 balance sheet estimates.

Burial over the dead in an already full cemetery is expensive. The Labour-controlled council has already spent millions since 2012 on staff time, landscape designers and other consultants, lawyers, tree felling and private contractors. Southwark is also applying to Parliament for permission to dig up the dead and their headstones across the cemeteries for resale.

Further, Southwark bought an expensive new software system for age profiling of graves and intends to clear twelve acres of valuable inner city woods worth at least £15M in asset value to the borough. External developers have to pay the borough for loss of trees but Southwark excludes this loss from their own balance sheets.

Add these up and the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries Save Southwark Woods campaign reckon Southwark’s burial service could easily cost more than £23Million over the next 10 years – a cost to Southwark of more than £3,000 per plot.

Extraordinarily, last March Cllr Fiona Colley Cabinet Member for Finance stated at a Cabinet Public Question Time that she and Southwark Council do not have to justify burial service expenditure. It is just something Southwark provides.

And Cllr Victoria Mills, responsible for the children’s service, fully supports the multi-million-pound spending on burial plots while her partner Cllr Gavin Edwards is Chair of Southwark’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee that ought to be investigating the lack of financial accountability. The Camberwell Cemeteries are in their Peckham Rye Ward.

No other service is allowed to spend millions without financial accountability. Why are Southwark Councillors writing a blank cheque for burial plots while slashing vital statutory services?

Councils everywhere – even Surrey – are struggling to deliver services under austerity.

Why won’t Councillors release up-to-date figures on spending? And why isn’t Council Leader Peter John holding Cllr Colley, Cllr Wingfield and the officers running the burial service financially accountable?

“Southwark’s multi-million pound burial service is financially unaccountable – it’s a bottomless pit, a waste of money and destructive to the environment,” says FOCC/SSW Chair Blanche Cameron.

“The Camberwell Cemeteries are full. 9 of the 13 inner London Boroughs provide burial outside their borough. Southwark is wasting our money while slashing vital services. It’s yet another reason Southwark must stop its horrific, discriminatory and destructive burial project immediately.”

The Save Southwark Woods campaign is fighting to protect the woods and graves of the Camberwell Cemeteries and preserve them as Nature Reserves, like Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries.

For more information:

contact the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries

Peter John

Above: Southwark Council Leader Peter John, responsible for slashing youth and care services while agreeing multi-million-pound spend on wasteful, destructive, discriminatory and disrespectful burial servce.

Below: Southwark Member for Finance Cllr Fiona Colley who stated last March that Southwark doesn’t need to evaluate burial service spending.

Cllr Ian Wingfield, Cabinet Member for Public Realm and responsible for the multi-million-pound burial service spend

Fiona Colley and Ian Wingfield

Below: Peckham Rye Ward Cllr Victoria Mills supports the spending. She is Cabinet Member for Children and Youth Services whose budget last year was slashed by 50% and faces more cuts in 2017-18. The cemeteries are in her Ward

Mills’ partner Cllr Gavin Edwards also Peckham Rye Ward – Chair of Southwark’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee which ought to be investigating Council wasteful expenditure and lack of accountability of the burial service

Gavin Edwards and Victoria Mills

Below: Southwark’s ‘new’ burial plots costing millions, flood regularly and are over thousands of poor people’s graves already buried beneath.

Bottom: Two acres of Grade 1 SINC woods cleared for burial plots, 10 acres to go – at a loss of at least £15M asset value to the borough as well as annual services value like cleaning the air and controlling flood risk.

Southwark's 'new' burial plots
Grade 1 SINC woods cut down and chipped