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 2012 Combined Code on Corporate Governance and our application of the principles set out in the Code.

Download our 2016 Annual Report (PDF 7.10Mb) for further information on our corporate governance commitments.

How the Board Functions

The Group is controlled through the Board of Directors that meets regularly throughout the year. Informal meetings are held between individual Directors as required.

The management of the Group on a day to day basis is delegated, via the Executive Directors, to an experienced and generally long serving senior and middle management team whose size and structure 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 the 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 comprises eight Directors and the Non-Executive Chairman. There are the same number of independent Non-Executive Directors and Executive Directors which the Board consider to be an appropriate and effective combination and also complies with the Code in respect of FTSE 250 listed companies. The Board also considers that four Executive Directors are sufficient to manage a Group of this size, complexity and organisational structure.

The four independent Non-Executive Directors who served for the period were: Jane Ashcroft, Alan McWalter, Martin Pexton and David Blackwood. Martin Pexton resigned from the Board on 3 February 2017 and after a comprehensive and rigorous search conducted by an external recruitment agency Mary McNamara was appointed as Non-Executive Director on 1 March 2017.

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

Their role is to challenge constructively the management of the Group and help develop proposals on 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.

Alan McWalter is the Senior Independent Director of the Group. His role is to provide a sounding board for the Chairman and act as an intermediary for other Directors if needed and to be available to shareholders if so required.

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.

Jane Ashcroft, David Blackwood, Alan McWalter and Mary McNamara are independent of management, as defined by the Code.

All Directors are able to take independent professional advice on the furtherance of their duties if necessary at the Group’s expense. They also have access to the advice and services of the Company Secretary, who is also the Corporate Services Director 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. Mary McNamara is receiving such training following her appointment.

The Company maintains appropriate insurance cover in respect of any legal action against its Directors including in respect of prospectuses issued in connection with the issue of additional Secured Notes and Returns of Value to Shareholders. 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 re-election at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting.

Board Appraisal

In accordance with the requirements of the Code an external evaluation of the Board and its Committees was again completed in 2016, following the one in 2013, by Independent Audit Ltd, a specialist company, 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.

The evaluation included the circulation of a questionnaire to each Director to stimulate thinking prior to a face to face interview with the external assessor. The performance of individual directors was also considered as part of this process.

The results of the evaluation were then collated, discussed with the Chairman, a detailed report sent to all Directors followed by a presentation to the full Board by Independent Audit Ltd at their meeting in September 2016. The evaluation concluded that the Board and its three Sub-Committees operate very effectively and there were no significant areas of concern. Subsequent to that presentation the Directors had a full comprehensive discussion regarding the performance of the Board and its Committees and agreed any action points arising.

Board committees

The Board has seven full Board meetings per annum spread broadly equally across the year. After careful consideration it was decided that this is the appropriate number required to exercise effective governance and control. Further meetings are arranged if required.

When Directors are unable to attend a meeting, they are advised of the matters to be discussed and given an opportunity to make their views known to the Chairman prior to the meeting. A process exists whereby such views will be included in the minutes of the meeting if necessary.

Three meetings between the Chairman and the Non-Executive Directors, without the Executive Directors being present were held during 2016. These are usually scheduled to occur before full Board meetings.

The Company Secretary

The Company Secretary, Richard Portman, is responsible for overseeing the preparation and distribution of all agendas, minutes and related Board and Committee papers. As Corporate Services Director, he attends the Board meetings in his capacity as a Director of the Company but as Company Secretary provides corporate governance advice if required. The minutes of the meeting are taken by an experienced Administrator from the Corporate Services function. Richard Portman also attends the Committee meetings when requested to do so by the Chairman of that Committee to provide corporate governance advice as Company Secretary with the minutes being taken by the Administrator.

The Board is happy that the role of Company Secretary is undertaken by the Corporate Services Director as, whilst traditionally it might be considered more appropriate to have the roles separate, the Board believes in Dignity’s case it is the most cost effective and sensible way of filling the role particularly given the skills and knowledge of the Corporate Services Director. 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 2016.

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 review mechanism for considering and reviewing internal controls. All such work is reported to and monitored by the Audit Committee who 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 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.

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 and Money Laundering;
  • Internal Audit – The Group has a dedicated Internal Audit team, which reports to the Chief Executive 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 2016 (as in 2015), 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, 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 two private meetings with the Chairman of the Audit Committee during 2016;
  • 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 29 to 31 of the Annual Report. These risks have also been formally considered when the Directors prepared their Viability Statement on page 31 of this Annual Report in accordance with provision C2.2 of the Code.
  • These procedures are designed to, amongst other things, help to provide assurance around the process of preparing consolidated financial statements and the financial reporting system.

Shareholder relations

The Group recognises the importance of clear communication with shareholders.

Regular contact with institutional investors, fund managers and analysts is maintained 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 or requested to discuss any issues that they may have.

The Chairman is also available to discuss governance and strategy matters with the major shareholders. The Corporate Services Director generally deals with queries or enquiries from private shareholders. The Board is as interested in their concerns as it is of institutional and corporate shareholders.

The AGM provides an opportunity to meet the Board and senior management group. All shareholders are free to attend and put questions to any Director and in particular the chairmen of each of the Board Committees at the AGM on 8 June 2017. At least 20 days' notice will be given ahead of that meeting. Questions asked in person at the AGM will receive an oral 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 after the meeting has concluded.

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 the Group’s investor website, www.dignityfuneralsplc.co.uk, 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, where it will not disrupt services we are providing to our clients.

Annual report

Read the 2016 Annual report

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