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Campaign for cemetery boss Jim 'misguided', says Southampton council chief
A council chief has today told campaigners fighting to save a long-serving cemetery superintendent from eviction they are “misguided”.
It comes just hours before hundreds are due to march from Hoglands Park to Guildhall Square in support of Jim Emery, 60, who faces the loss of his home at Hollybrook Cemetery after the council axed his job of 26 years to save cash.
But Cabinet member for environment Councillor Asa Thorpe said the “whole campaign is misguided”.
“No one is being put out on the street, and we have offered Mr Emery four alternative jobs to avoid redundancy. He turned them down, as is his right, and so is set to walk away on October 5 with a lump sum, a local government pension and a redundancy payment,” he said.
He said the council had offered Mr Emery and his wife an alternative two-bedroom flat in an area they prefered, with room for their dog, Honey.
“Councillors and officers are showing every sensitivity to the Emerys, but the fact is, what they are asking for would be very unfair to others,” he said.
He said Mr Emery had become attached to the “lovely four-bedroom detached house” at Hollybrook Cemetery but always knew the tenancy would end when his job did. The post was axed in February by the previous Tory administration.
Cllr Thorpe added: “His supporters want a special case to be made to allow Mr Emery to stay on at the Lodge, but how are we supposed to explain this to the 7,500 families on our housing list that need a family home?”
“As a council, we need to balance the needs of council staff at risk of redundancy, council tenants and would-be tenants, and tax payers. Mr Emery's supporters don't have the full picture. We cannot ignore our obligations.”
Mr Emery, who looks after the city’s five cemeteries, has appealed to council chiefs to let him stay at Hollybrook Cemetery lodge on a reduced rent until his retirement if he continues to carry out some of his duties unpaid.
A petition of nearly 2,000 names will be handed over to council leaders.
Mr Emery’s plight has attracted a worldwide campaign of support.
He has worked for the council for 42 years, starting out as a grave digger.
Ward councillors and opposition Tories have called for the council to come up with a common sense deal that could let Mr Emery stay at the lodge a few more years.
The council said Mr Emery's job had become redundant due to technological advances, such as computer mapping of graves, and added that grave diggers and other staff had always been on site to help bereaved families and funeral directors.