To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chairman of a Committee in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12.
(1) Ms. S. Yousaf referred to Councillor Alam mentioning during the last scrutiny meeting that £10,000 was allocated for a Qibla stone after discussions with the Council of Mosques and, therefore, asked why had RMBC not communicated with the liaison groups, which included the Rotherham Muslim Burial Council. The Qibla stone served no meaningful purpose and the money would be better spent on toilet facilities for all using the cemetery.
Councillor Alam noted the questioner’s view on the stone, but confirmed on 24th October, 2019 a feedback action meeting took place at Herringthorpe Cemetery attended by mosques, mosque committees and burial committees and two issues were raised; one was for an independent group to be established to advise Dignity and the other was for an ornament with a Qibla direction. This was a specific request from the community.
In a supplementary question Ms. Yousaf explained things had changed since 2019 and there were a lot more organisations and groups who were members of the liaison group. She asked had the Cabinet Member not considered discussing this with everyone now in 2023 rather than relying on what happened in 2019 and, furthermore, in terms of the Qibla stone technology had moved on and what was required was a compass to see what direction the Qibla was. On this basis the member of the public totally disagreed with the Cabinet Member about spending £10,000 on a Qibla stone.
Councillor Alam further responded and confirmed that in terms of the liaion group all information had been passed onto Dignity who was now responsible for liaising with the community.
(2) Mr. F. Tareen referred to Dignity promising to appoint a Hydrogeologist in October 2022 to investigate the source of the groundwater. RMBC was managing the contract and the current works were being carried out by Dignity. He asked could RMBC confirm whether or not Dignity had instructed a Hydrogeologist and if not, please provide timeframes issued by RMBC to Dignity for this to be carried out.
Councillor Alam explained the question was really one for Dignity as the Council’s management of the matter was of the contract and not how Dignity decided to resolve individual issues.
However, he confimed Dignity have appointed a Hydrologist and a number of inspections have been carried out on site. A monitoring station was also installed as part of the drainage system to enable samples to be taken.
The last two inspections on site were on 12th of January and 6th of February and Dignity have been asked if timescales could be shared with the community and a report of the Hydrologist’s results shared publicly when all of the data had been gathered.
In a supplementary question Mr. Tareen explained there were 1,250 community members who signed an objection letter against the planning application submitted by Dignity for the expansion of the Muslim burial area since the prime concern of the community was the water issue and asked if he was right to believe that the report would be published soon by the Hydrologist. If not, could the planning application wait until the report was received.
Councillor Alam confirmed the Chair of Planning was also present today. He confirmed the report would be published and if there were any concerns with the planning application it would be considered by the Board.
(3) Mr. A. Mahmood explained RMBC have to date fined Dignity £395,000 of which £148,000 had been spent so asked what the remaining amount was going to be spent on?
Councillor Alam explained Overall it should be noted that there has been investment of more than £1 million in the Council’s cemeteries this year. The Council will keep under review what further capital investment is required and how any further income from Dignity might be used, however the Council will not use public funds to do work that is the responsibility of Dignity.
In a supplementary question Mr. Mahmood asked in light of the planning application being submitted for the extension to the burial ground, which would be filled up very quickly, and in light of so many burial grounds being closed, would it not be prudent for these points to contribute to locating another piece of land close to where Herringthorpe Cemetery was and investing in that.
Councillor Alam confirmed that under the contract the Council needed to provide the land and the developments run by Dignity, but the Council was waiting for a thirty year plan and review from Dignity regarding burial sites in Rotherham.
(4) Mr. A. Azam explained that at the Cabinet meeting on 23rd January, 2023 it was recorded as “Bereavement Services will commission an independent expert on the bereavement facilities available in Rotherham. Plus, “Associated community work” costing £20k.” He, therefore, asked could the Cabinet Member please share what this “Associated Community Work” was and give a breakdown of how much was being spent with whom?
Councillor Alam explained the Council’s Budget report, being voted on later this afternoon, included an amount of £20,000 for Bereavement Services to commission an independent report plus any community engagement and communication if the recommendations were to visit other good practice sites in the country, which may have a cost. It was hoped this amount would cover all the engagement going forward from the recommendations of the independent review.
In a supplementary question Mr. Azam assumed this would be all Council expenditure and no other parties. He referred to the name of Mohamed Omer being aired at a scrutiny meeting in December as an initiative that was being pushed by the Council. This then appeared in the Advertiser as well and this raised numerous questions and anxiety in the Muslim community. It was assumed that before going to press all key tasks would be completed and then this would not be viewed as an equality tick box. To this end apart from saying this year could the Cabinet Member share the exact dates when Mohamed Omer would be undertaking his review, the terms of reference and when would that report be issued.
Councillor Alam considered it to be healthy for an independent person to come and look at the Council’s services and for information Mr. Omer was a leading expert on burials and on advising Ministers and the Cardinals’ Office and actually chaired the National Muslim Burial Council. He also had authority and ran a large award-winning Muslim burial cemetery so for the Council to have him here to look at services and improvements. The month of Ramadan was fast approaching so it was hoped his involvement would commence immediately after Ramadan.
(5) Ms. N. Khan confirmed she attended the last Council meeting in November, 2022 where Councillor Alam promised to meet. She asked, therefore, could she have a definitive date to have a face-to-face meeting as she felt let down by RMBC as promises have been made several times and nothing had been arranged apart from a disappointing email being received which made no sense.
Councillor Alam explained since the start of this governance process he was keen to make sure the Council had ongoing monitoring contract work with Dignity’s engagement. The plan at the moment was for Dignity to meet all stakeholders, the community and friends of cemeteries as there had been some blurring of responsibility in the past because of the delivery of the contract by Dignity. It was for Dignity to meet with community sectors, organisations and others and hopefully when the work of Mohamed Omer commenced he would be also be able to engage the community too.
In a supplementary question Ms. Khan explained her request was still the same. She did not wish to meet with Dignity or Mr. Omer, but was simply asking for her local Councillors, as a grieving daughter, to meet and sit and listen to her about the problems the community had. The only way the Council would hear what the community had to say was by meeting rather than waiting for Dignity or Mr. Omer.
Councillor Alam was in a similar position with family members being buried in the same place, but pointed out due process must be followed as part of the 35 year contact signed in 2008. The Council were holding Dignity to account with service delivery which could be undermined if the Council started having meetings and conversations about issues, the governance arrangements would decrease and the holding of Dignity to account would be difficult. In terms of stakeholder engagement if Dignity were not undertaking this property then there would be financial penalties so the governance processes must be made clear.