A VICAR has slammed Blaenau Gwent council's decision to halt burials over the Christmas period as "deplorable" and accused them of penny pinching in their bid to save £4,000.

Reverend Geoff Waggett, rector of Ebbw Vale, told the Argus the council does not encounter the grieving families who will be affected by the measure, as voted for by members of the council's executive committee last week.

Members agreed that bookings at seven of the borough's cemeteries will not be taken between 10.30am on December 24, and January 2.

A report which went before members stated that due to the financial climate, this year's working arrangements for office staff taking funeral bookings would have to be reviewed.

The report stated that advance warning would be given to funeral directors, and that Gwent Crematorium and Llwyd Coed Crematorium will be open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

"Someone could have died on Christmas Eve afternoon, with all the agony and distress that causes to families, and they cannot book the funeral until January 2," said Rev Waggett, who is responsible for the three Anglican churches in Ebbw Vale.

"There could be a delay of 10 to 14 days after that. It is a totally uncaring attitude towards distressed folk for the sake of saving £4,000 and they do not see the grieving families, it is funeral directors and ministers like myself.

"I think it is a deplorable decision and penny pinching in the last area where they want to be penny pinching," said Rev Waggett.

"They can't have any comprehension of the heartache and distress this causes to families and at this time of year especially."

There have been problems booking funerals at Christmas time every year for the past 12 years, said Rev Waggett.

"There has never been complete shutdown before," he said.

Blaenau Gwent council declined to comment.