The lion rampant?

Fran Hall

Editor’s note: We received this blog post from Mark and publish it as we feel it raises matters of great concern to funeral consumers and practitioners alike.

Out of courtesy, we provided the NAFD with an advance copy and invited them to comment.

We were advised that their legal team required several statements made by Mark in his original post to be removed, and he has obliged by doing so. His post below is amended accordingly.

We have been supplied with an official response from NAFD President Alison Crake which we are required to publish in full. This response can be found below Mark’s observations.

 

Guest post by Mark Binnersley, Communications Consultant

‘The NAFD – what is its point?

I care deeply about the funeral profession. I care even more about how we treat bereaved people. So it is depressing to see the National Association of Funeral Directors in the midst of a protracted existential crisis.

From what I witnessed as an employee between spring 2016 and summer 2017, it seemed like it didn’t know whether it wanted to be a trade association or a regulator.

Any dreams the NAFD might have of becoming regulator in Scotland are unlikely to get out of the starting blocks. There’s no way the Scottish Government is going to allow funeral directors to mark their own homework. And quite right too.

Self-regulation often fails because industries have a tendency to put their own vested interests before public protection. It’s an indisputable fact.

The association should certainly think carefully before making any calls for regulation of the funeral profession in England and Wales.

I take the view that it is wiser to see how regulation in Scotland pans out before wishing it on English colleagues, and crucially to respect the vote against “regulation by Government” by members at the association’s annual conference in 2016.

Besides, has anyone asked officials in Whitehall whether they would like to regulate English or Welsh funeral directors?

No. And to my mind there is no appetite.

Anyone who thinks regulation of funeral directors might stand a chance of becoming Government business amid the shambles that is Brexit would have to be seriously deluded or suffering from a clinically-problematic overinflated ego.

If I were a small, independent member of the NAFD, I would also be wondering what the point of the association is and, with an inflation-busting 5 per cent subscription increase planned for 2018, would be considering the following three questions.

Firstly, is the NAFD going to help my business grow? Well, it’s not going to refer funerals to me, so that answer to that question has to be no.

Secondly, what protection does membership offer my business? It hasn’t managed to stop regulation in Scotland and it hasn’t halted the spread of local authority trading.

The reason it hasn’t been able to influence either of these developments is because it cannot afford to alienate its larger members. For your Co-operative Funeralcare, Dignity and Funeral Partners, regulation and local authority contracts represent an opportunity. Faced with a situation like this, the NAFD has little choice but to offer its support or make nuanced opposition at local level. Like a heroin addict, the association is hooked on the big boys’ subscription fees.

And thirdly, what is the NAFD doing to raise public awareness of the advantages of asking one of its members to conduct a friend’s or relative’s funeral?

The issue of public profile is being scarily overlooked as a result of the association’s obsession with regulation in Scotland.

Many members join the NAFD because they are led to believe that putting the lion logo in their shop window makes them look like they adhere to a set of standards.

However, just as many members know that the NAFD brand has near zero profile and the sticker means very little to your average bereaved member of the public. Indeed, an independent YouGov poll, commissioned by the NAFD, showed that only 7 per cent of people had heard of the association.

The NAFD really needs to develop a campaigning culture when it comes to public relations.

If it is to truly add value to its members, it should run a series of public information campaigns aimed at raising its profile and showing people the benefits of choosing an NAFD member over non members. It should be out and about at public events, talking to its members’ potential clients.

For some reason, it seems to prefer reactive PR, which is good for self-assurance but does diddly squat for one’s profile.

There’s no hope of this changing whilst the association obsesses over regulation. But if as a result of statutory regulations it is no longer to be seen as the upholder of industry standards – certainly in Scotland – then what is it for?

Other sectors – take for instance insurance – seem to find space for their trade association(s) to co-exist alongside regulation and continue to add value to members.

Another question members ought to be asking relates to staff resignations. Six employees have left or announced early retirement from the association since June this year.

The NAFD needs to be doing much more to promote its CPD and lobbying activity and show the public, through concerted campaigns, what a good funeral director looks like.

There are plenty of them in membership of the NAFD.

Sadly, their interests are being overlooked because the association doesn’t seem to know what it’s for at the moment.

I’ve written this blog in order to start a conversation, as someone who cares about the funeral world and more importantly the vulnerable people it serves.

I wonder what founder Henry Sherry would make of it all.’

 

Response to above by Alison Crake, NAFD President

‘Mark Binnersley made many positive contributions to the work of the NAFD, during his short time in our employment, which makes his short sighted and poorly informed assessment of our work all the more surprising and disappointing.

He has dramatically overstated both his level of influence and access to information during his time with the NAFD in suggesting that, after working with the profession for only a year at a junior management level, he had assumed greater knowledge and strategic insight than funeral directors who are caring for bereaved people on a daily basis – many of whom have been in business for generations. He was certainly aware of some key developments which took place during his tenure and contributed his thoughts towards decision making, but he was by no means any kind of lone voice of reason and there were many discussions and decisions made, at a more senior level, which he simply was not party to.

In addition, given that Mark has not been in the NAFD offices since late June, almost four months ago, he is unaware of any significant or strategic developments during that time, rendering his views somewhat outdated.

Nevertheless, I would like to address some of the key points in Mr Binnersley’s blog post.

Far from being in the midst of an ‘existential crisis’, I am sure the bereaved families who look to the Good Funeral Guide (GFG) for guidance would be reassured to know that the NAFD, which oversees standards for 80% of the UK’s funeral directors, is quite clear and resolute about its core purpose but, equally, remains unafraid to talk to a wide community of stakeholders, in a time of change, to make absolutely certain that it is meeting the evolving needs of bereaved people, as well as the needs of the funeral directors that care for them. 

Equally, his assertions that the NAFD had ‘dreams’ of becoming a regulator in Scotland bear no resemblance to reality. Certainly we were, and remain, prepared to be a statutory regulator if ever the need arises, building on our current, respected, self-regulatory role. However, our main priority is to work with the Scottish Government as closely as possible on the implementation of regulation to ensure that it is proportionate, assists funeral directors in delivering high standards and acts in the public interest. Mr Binnersley is right, there is little appetite for regulation in Westminster at present and we’ve never called for it. However, in a YouGov survey in 2016, 80% of Britons said regulation of the funeral profession was important and therefore it would be remiss of us not to demonstrate our experience as an effective self-regulator to Government, highlight to our members the possibility that it might one day come, and work with them to ensure they maintain the highest possible standards of operation, irrespective of which organisation is overseeing their work.

I am sure GFG readers would also be reassured to know that, as a not-for-profit organisation, the 5% subscription increase that he refers to will be ploughed into additional education resources to train funeral directors to the highest standards, into our inspections and standards regime, and into planned initiatives that will provide even more information and support to the public when they experience a bereavement. For more than 90% of our members, the increase represents less than £1 a week extra for each funeral home they own and, as a result, the proposed increase was comprehensively backed, by members of all shapes and sizes, at our half year AGM last week.

We can always do more, but that is true of all organisations. However, the NAFD has been transparent in its commitment to evolve in the face of the changing needs of families, Government and our members, and I do not understand why Mr Binnersley feels this to be a bad thing? Although he was aware of these conversations during his time with the NAFD, he resigned without being involved in any level of decision-making about the way forward.

I do feel I should point out to Mr Binnersley that, in 112 years of the NAFD, its’ role has never been to ‘refer business’ to its members. We are not a sales promotions agency and this fundamental misunderstanding, on his part, of our role within the profession, only emphasises his lack of authority to speak on these matters. The NAFD’s role is to provide advice and support; to promote and monitor adherence to our Code of Practice and Code of Professional Conduct; to build relationships with Government and speak on members’ behalf; to use its collective buying power to help members run their businesses effectively and to signpost the public towards both sensible information and the details of all NAFD members in their local area. 

I am immensely proud to be President of such a progressive, determined and supportive organisation. The NAFD is also democratic, with our members all having one vote, irrespective of size and led by an Executive Committee, drawn from all sections of the profession, with small independent funeral firms representing 60% of the committee’s membership.

I am sorry that Mark has chosen to criticise from the outside, rather than shape the profession’s future from within. As a funeral director of 38 years, the ongoing wellbeing of the families I care for, across Teesside, are the reason I do this job and I know that this sense of duty is true of the vast majority of NAFD members. The fact that we choose to pool our collective experience, expertise and resources, under the umbrella of the National Association of Funeral Directors, in service to bereaved families across the UK, should give GFG readers confidence to know that they can turn to an NAFD member in their time of need and know they will be professionally and compassionately cared for.’

 

 

 

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