We are committed to high standards of corporate governance in order to achieve our objectives and meet the necessary standards of accountability and integrity. This section covers our compliance with the relevant provisions set out in the 2016 Combined Code on Corporate Governance and our application of the principles set out in the Code.

How the Board Functions

The Group is controlled through the Board of Directors that meets regularly throughout the year.

The day-to-day management of the Group is delegated to the Executive Directors and the wider Executive Management Team supported by an experienced and generally long serving senior and middle management team, the size and structure of which is commensurate with the complexity of the Group’s activities. Managers have the necessary skills and knowledge relevant to their areas of responsibility. The remainder of the responsibilities rest with the Board, however, certain capital expenditures and acquisition projects are delegated under a formally adopted Schedule of Matters Reserved for the Board and Expenditure Authorisation Policy.

All Directors are provided with the necessary papers in advance of the meetings to permit them to make informed decisions at those meetings. The Board also considers employee issues and key management appointments, including the role of Company Secretary.

The Board now comprises five Directors and the Executive Chairman. During 2019 the total number of directors who served was nine. Peter Hindley, former Non-Executive Chairman, retired from the Board on 13 June 2019 and Mary McNamara, former Chair of the Remuneration Committee retired from the Board on 27 December 2019. There are currently three independent Non-Executive Directors and three Executive Directors.

There were three independent Non-Executive Directors who served for the period: Jane Ashcroft, David Blackwood and Mary McNamara. Mary McNamara retired from the Board on 27 December 2019 due to a substantial increase in commitments with her other Board appointments. Jane Ashcroft stood down from the Board on 3 April 2020 following the completion of her contractual term. David Blackwood stood down from the Board following the AGM on 11 June 2020.

Mike McCollum, former Chief Executive Officer, stood down from the Board on 3 April 2020 as the current strategic crossroads represented an appropriate time for him to hand over as Chief Executive Officer. We are in the process of finding a new Chief Executive Officer, aligned with the learnings from both our strategic review and the CMA investigation. In the interim, Clive Whiley who has extensive change management experience, has temporarily stepped up to the role of Executive Chairman.

There are currently two independent Non-Executive Directors and three Executive Directors including Clive Whiley who is currently Executive Chairman.

Biographical details for the serving Non-Executive Directors can be found on Our Board page.

Their role is to challenge constructively the management of the Group and to assist in the development of strategy. The Non-Executive Directors are chosen for their diversity of skills and experience. Each Non-Executive Director is appointed for a fixed term of two years, subject to annual re-election by shareholders. This term may then be renewed by mutual consent up to a maximum of nine years in accordance with the Code. Appointments beyond six years are also subject to rigorous review prior to approval. The Non-Executive letters of appointment are available, upon request, from the Company Secretary.

The Chairman and the Non-Executive Directors are required to, and have, confirmed formally to the Board that, mindful of their other commitments they have, and will have, sufficient time to devote to their responsibilities as Directors of the Company.

Gillian Kent and Dean Moore (both appointed post year end) are independent of management as defined by the Code. Mary McNamara who retired from the Board at year-end was also an independent Non-Executive Director.

David Blackwood was interim Chairman of the Company from the retirement of Peter Hindley on 12 June 2019 until Clive Whiley was appointed Chairman on 26 September 2019. This interim position did not compromise David Blackwood’s independence as defined in the April 2016 UK Corporate Governance Code.

All Directors are able to take independent professional advice on the furtherance of their duties as necessary at the Group's expense. They also have access to the advice and services of the Company Secretary and, where it is considered appropriate and necessary, training is made available to Directors. All Directors receive annual training and updates on the duties and responsibilities of being a Director of a listed company. This covers legal, accounting, security and tax matters as required or as requested by any Director. In addition, any newly appointed Director receives appropriate induction training.

The Company maintains appropriate insurance cover in respect of any legal action against its Directors. The level of cover is currently £100 million.

The Directors have, during the period, formally reminded themselves of their duties as Directors under the Companies Act 2006 (Section 171-177). These duties include the need to avoid conflicts of interest (Section 175). No such conflicts of interest exist.

In accordance with the Code, all Directors will submit themselves for election or re-election as appropriate at the 2020 Annual General Meeting.

Board Appraisal

In accordance with the requirements of the Code, an external evaluation of the Board and its Committees was completed in 2019. The evaluation was conducted by Lintstock Limited, a corporate advisory firm, entirely independent of the Group. This meets the requirements of the Code that an external evaluation takes place on at least a three yearly basis. A further external evaluation will be undertaken in 2022. During the period, the Board undertook a formal and rigorous evaluation of its own performance and that of its Committees and Directors by way of the issue of a detailed online questionnaire to all Directors. This was followed by a detailed review by Lintstock Limited and the Board of the responses and identification of any actions arising.

Specific matters reviewed by the Board were:

  • Board composition;
  • Stakeholder oversight;
  • Board dynamics;
  • Board support;
  • Management and focus of meetings;
  • Case study: CMA funerals market investigation;
  • Strategic oversight;
  • Risk Management and internal control;
  • Succession planning and human resource management; and
  • Priorities for change.

Issues arising from the evaluation are reviewed and addressed.

The Non-Executive Directors, led by the Senior Independent Director, are responsible for the performance evaluation of the Chairman taking in to account the views of the other Executive Directors. The Board was satisfied that its performance and that of its Chairman, individual Directors and Committees was of the appropriate standard.

The Company Secretary

The Company Secretary, Tim George, is responsible for overseeing the preparation and distribution of all agendas, minutes and related Board and Committee papers. He attends the Board meetings in his capacity as Company Secretary and provides corporate governance advice if required.

The appointment and removal of the Company Secretary is a matter for the Board as a whole.

Internal Control and Risk Management

The Board has responsibility for the Group's system of internal control and risk management, which is designed to manage rather than eliminate the risk of failure to achieve business objectives and can provide only reasonable, and not absolute, assurance against material misstatement or loss. A formal and ongoing process of identifying, evaluating and managing the significant risks faced by the Group was in place throughout the period and in place up to the date the Governance Report was signed and approved for the Annual Report and Accounts 2019.

The Executive Directors and the wider executive management group are responsible for designing, implementing, maintaining and evaluating the necessary systems of internal controls. Such controls are reviewed on an ongoing basis and formally reviewed on an annual basis in accordance with the requirements of the Code. This annual review confirmed that the Group’s risk management and internal control systems were appropriate and suitable for a Group of this size and complexity.

Internal Audit completes a programme of work each year that provides assurance that the internal controls have been operated as designed and also proposes improvements where appropriate and necessary. Coupled with this, the formal six monthly review of the Risk Register provides a further mechanism for considering and reviewing internal controls. All such work is reported to and monitored by the Audit Committee which recommends approval to the full Board.

The Audit Committee on behalf of the Board, as part of an ongoing process, formally reviews and continues to keep under review the effectiveness of the Group’s systems of internal control, including financial, operational and compliance controls and risk management systems. The Audit Committee also formally reviews risk management annually and receives reports from Executive Management and Internal Audit regarding weaknesses in internal control, any losses arising out of weaknesses in internal control and progress in implementing revised procedures to improve and enhance internal control. It also identifies the significant controls upon which reliance will be placed. Any significant control weaknesses would be reported to the full Board at their next meeting. There have been no reports of weaknesses that have resulted or would have resulted in a material misstatement or loss in the period, nor in the period up to the date was this Annual Report published.

The key procedures, which operated throughout the period, are as follows:

  • Financial Reporting – The Group has a comprehensive system of internal budgeting and forecasting. The Group's monthly actual results analysed by operating division are reported to the Board and significant variances to budget are investigated with revised forecasts prepared as necessary;
  • Financial Controls – The Executive Directors have defined appropriate and necessary financial controls and procedures to be employed by operational management. Key controls over major business risks include reviews against budgets and forecasts, review against key performance indicators and exception reporting;
  • Quality and Integrity of Personnel – One of the Group's core values is integrity. This is regarded as vital to the maintenance of the Group’s system of internal financial control. The Directors have put in place an organisation structure appropriate to the size and complexity of the Group with defined lines of responsibility and delegation of authority where the Board considers it necessary and appropriate. There is also a Code of Conduct applicable to all employees of the Group as well as specific policies such as Anti Bribery and Corruption, Slavery and Human Trafficking and Money Laundering;
  • Internal Audit – The Group has a dedicated Internal Audit team, which reports to the Corporate Services Director and the Audit Committee. The latter reviews and approves the annual work plan of the Internal Audit function which tests the effectiveness of many controls. Any significant weaknesses are reported to management and the Audit Committee on a timely basis. It coordinates the completion of self-assessment reports by operational management that assists in highlighting areas of control weakness or exposure. Internal audit reviews are completed on such areas together with selected areas of the head office function and any area where an Executive Director requests a review.

During 2019 (as in previous years), there were quarterly meetings between the Head of Internal Audit and the Executive Directors to formally review and discuss Internal Audit's work programme and findings. In addition, regular meetings between the Head of Internal Audit and the external auditors, Ernst & Young LLP ('EY'), were held during the year to discuss and plan audit work and to ensure a complementary approach. The Head of Internal Audit formally reports to the Audit Committee at every meeting and also held private meetings with the Chairman of the Audit Committee during 2019;

  • Procedures – The Group has established and documented processes and procedures covering most parts of its operations, both client facing and in support departments. These provide clear guidance on the correct or most appropriate course of action in various circumstances. Procedures are supplemented by training where needs have been identified. Both Internal Audit and the comprehensive management structure monitor the adherence to such processes and procedures; and
  • Risk assessment – The Executive Directors and the wider executive management group have responsibility for the identification and evaluation of significant risks that might arise in their areas of responsibility, together with the design of suitable internal controls. This was in place throughout the accounting period and at the date of approval of the Annual Report. They also regularly assess the risks facing the Group. A Risk Register is maintained which is presented to and reviewed by the Audit Committee twice a year and then formally adopted by the Board of Dignity plc. Risks and any changes to those risks are discussed at every Board meeting. The principal risks and uncertainties facing the Group, which are documented in the Risk Register, are discussed on pages 46 to 51 of the Annual Report. These risks have also been formally considered when the Directors prepared their Viability Statement on page 51 of the Annual Report in accordance with provision C2.2 of the Code.

These procedures are designed to, amongst other things, help to provide assurance regarding the process of preparing consolidated financial statements and the financial reporting system.

An explanation of how the Group aims to create and preserve value and the strategy for delivering its objectives is included in the Operating Review on pages 34 to 40.

Relationship with Shareholders

The Group recognises the importance of clear communication with shareholders.

Regular contact with institutional investors, fund managers and analysts is undertaken by the Chief Executive and the Finance Director to discuss information made public by the Group. The Board receives reports of these meetings and any significant issues raised are discussed by the Board. Where appropriate or if requested, such meetings could include either or both the Chairman and the Senior Independent Director. The Chairman, Senior Independent Director and the Non-Executive Directors are also available to meet separately with shareholders if necessary to discuss any issues that they may have. The Chairman is also available to discuss governance and strategy matters with the major shareholders. The Company Secretary deals with queries or enquiries from private shareholders. The Board is interested in the views and concerns of all shareholders whether private, institutional or corporate. 

The AGM provides an opportunity to meet the Board and the Executive Management Team. In normal circumstances, all shareholders are free to attend and put questions to any Director and the Chairman of each of the Board Committees. At least 20 days’ notice will be given ahead of that meeting. Questions asked in person at the AGM will receive a verbal response whenever possible, otherwise a written response will be provided as soon as practicable after the AGM. Questions raised at any other time will normally receive a written response. Shareholders attending the AGM will also have the opportunity to meet informally with all the Directors and the Executive Management Team after the meeting has concluded.

Dignity will hold its 2020 AGM on Thursday, 11 June. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and HM Government's 'Stay at Home' measures on limiting group gatherings to no more than two people, shareholders are not allowed to attend the meeting in person but are encouraged to submit their votes by proxy. Further details can be found in the 2020 AGM Notice.

On 14 June 2019, the Company announced that at the Annual General Meeting held on 13 June 2019 more than 20 per cent of the votes cast on Resolution 15 ("To authorise the Board to make political donations or incur political expenditure") were against the resolution. 

As stated in the AGM Notice and in common with many companies, it is not the Company's policy to make donations to political parties, or to make other political donations within the normal meaning of that expression, and the Directors have no intention of changing that policy. The purpose of Resolution 15 was to avoid the inadvertent infringement of provisions within the Companies Act 2006.

Following discussions with one of our major shareholders which has a general policy not to support this resolution, we believe this shareholder now has a better understanding of the purpose behind the resolution.

The Directors consider that this Annual Report and Accounts, taken as a whole, is fair, balanced and understandable and provides the information necessary for shareholders to assess the Group’s performance, business model, risks and strategy. In order to assess whether the Annual Report and Accounts were fair, balanced and understandable, the Board received an early draft to enable time for review and comment. The Audit Committee then met to consider the criteria for a fair, balanced and understandable Annual Report and to review the process underpinning the compilation and assurance of the report, in relation to financial and non-financial management information. At that meeting they considered the Annual Report and Accounts as a whole and discussed the tone, balance and language of the document, being mindful of the UK reporting requirements and consistency between narrative sections and the financial statements. As part of this process the Board considered the Group’s reporting governance framework and the views of the external auditor as reported to the Audit Committee.

The Annual Report and Accounts is made available to all shareholders at least 20 working days before the AGM. Registered shareholders receive a Notice of Meeting and Form of Proxy, the latter document allowing a shareholder to vote in favour, or against or indicate an abstention on each separate resolution tabled at the AGM. Particulars of aggregate proxies lodged are also announced to the London Stock Exchange ('LSE') and placed on this website, as soon as practicable after the conclusion of the AGM.

The Interim Report is no longer published as a paper document but is available on the Group's investor website upon which users can also access the latest financial and corporate news. All information reported to the market via regulatory information services also appears as soon as practicable on that website.  

The Group is happy to arrange visits to its funeral locations and crematoria, if requested by a shareholder, at a time suitable to all parties.

Annual report

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