Series following council officers. In this episode Mike Gurney, head of the bereavement services team, turns detective when a resident dies alone.
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From waste and recycling to pest control and trading standards.
The taxes that we pay to our local councils are used to provide
many of our most essential services.
I like people who are keen to recycle.
In this series, we follow the front-line staff working
behind the walls of Tameside Town Hall in Greater Manchester.
Like council officers across the country,
these local heroes are waging war on those blighting our communities.
Oi! Oi! Oi! Excuse me, love, you can't do that!
They are protecting us from hidden dangers...
If there is rodent activity in your kitchen,
you won't be opening tonight, it's that simple.
..making sure our cash is spent on those who need it most...
I'm at a loose end. I do not know where to turn.
..and responding to their residents when they call the council.
Coming up in today's programme, council officers turn detective
after a resident dies alone.
It doesn't feel right, somehow, going through somebody's personal belongings.
Unfortunately, it's something we have to do.
-A resident calls the council after discovering
an unwanted ingredient in her curry.
Halfway through we discovered black beetles.
And officers respond when shoppers and staff
are put in danger at a cash and carry.
-I'm losing confidence, really.
-You don't need to.
In the UK, over 400 local councils employing over two million people
are charged with putting our money to the best possible use.
Every hour of every day, these local authorities
and local council officers work around the clock
to keep us safe, caring for us from cradle to grave.
Hello, Bereavement Services.
Mike Gurney is in charge of the council's bereavement service.
Based at Tameside's crematorium,
it's his job to care for the deceased and their families.
I don't think people do realise how much
the council are involved in their lives in many ways.
Everybody at some point has got to come to me. That sounds awful.
People get scared when I say, "See you soon." They start worrying.
Today Mike's dealing with a call from the police
asking for the council's help, and for him to turn detective.
We've just received a phone call from the coroner's office, and it's
regarding a gentleman that has been found dead in his property locally.
Initial enquiries haven't revealed any relatives
whatsoever at the moment.
What I need to do now as part of our service is to do more enquiries,
as to whether he's got any family or not, and I need to get into
the property now to go through his belongings and to establish
if there's any monies available to arrange a funeral for him.
In cases like this,
when someone dies without any known surviving relatives,
it becomes the council's responsibility to arrange
what's known as a community funeral.
A community funeral is where somebody dies in Tameside,
and there's no known relatives
and there's no-one to sort their funeral out.
We have a statutory obligation to make sure we arrange a funeral in those circumstances.
Local authorities in England and Wales carry out
around 3,000 community funerals a year, at a cost of £2 million.
To recoup some of these costs,
councils are allowed access to any assets the deceased leave behind.
We literally have to go in the house, people's houses,
and find any bank details. If there's no actual money available,
maybe there's anything valuable there, we can sell it,
to pay towards the funeral.
But in a lot of the cases, there's no money whatsoever.
In a bid to find out
if the deceased man has any surviving family or remaining funds,
Mike's preparing for the difficult task of searching his home.
OK, so we've got some disposable suits we need to take with us just as a precaution.
A face mask, because it can be not very nice, shall we say,
the smell, sometimes, it depends on the circumstances,
how long the person's been there, so face masks.
These are my shoes that I wear when I go in these properties,
because some of them are pretty horrendous.
These are our big socks.
These are to go over our shoes, should it be extremely bad.
We've been involved in lots of things, exhumations,
and we were very much involved in the Shipman Inquiry a few years back,
and my staff were involved in exhuming bodies.
I do go home and off-load sometimes to my wife, and I've got a great
family network, so I think it's talking things through
amongst the staff, but my coping mechanism is probably a sense of humour.
I don't know, I think I've got a good sense of humour.
My wife would kill me if she saw this. Not ironed!
You know, it's not being disrespectful, but it's probably just a coping mechanism.
If Mike can alert any relatives to the man's death or find some funds,
he can reduce the burden on Tameside's taxpayers
and help give the man a respectful funeral.
Coming up, the officers discover some valuable information.
-I found a big metal box.
-Is there a key in it?
-There's no key in it?
But will it help them find any family for the deceased?
Local councils nationwide do their best to help out
whenever a resident calls about life or death.
That would be Bereavement Services.
If you bear with me, I shall put you through. Thank you.
But not all queries from the bereaved are easy to resolve.
Cheapest and legal way to dispose of a dead body...
Yeah, and wasn't the story that,
"Can I carry them round in my boot, of the car?"
Yeah. I mean, that's weird, isn't it?
I had one lady once, she requested to hire a helicopter.
She wanted her husband's ashes spreading across Tameside.
I were like... "No!"
Alerted by the police,
Mike Gurney has arrived at the home of a resident
who's thought to have died without leaving any surviving relatives
to help with his funeral.
Got some steps to make it easier.
He needs to find out more about the deceased gentleman's life
and begins his investigation by speaking to a neighbour.
Mrs Harrison? Hello there. Just to let you know,
we're going in the property now to see what we can find.
Are you the lady that reported you hadn't seen the gentleman?
I hadn't seen him, but Jill across the road informed me that his
curtains hadn't been opened for a few days, because we'd been away.
-So the window cleaner was due that same day, and Duncan knocked on the door
and said, "Would you like me to look through his bedroom window?"
-So we said, "Yes, if you would, Duncan."
-Could he see him through there?
-He could do.
He went up on his ladder, Duncan, and came back round immediately and
told me he'd found Stephen through the window collapsed on his bed.
The man suffered a fatal heart attack.
Now it's up to Mike to explore the house for clues
that might confirm he died without any family.
Shall we do a sniff test?
I think it's... HE SNIFFS
I think it's going to be all right, actually.
What we do need is gloves. Can you get my gloves?
They're in the black bag in the boot.
The man's body was removed by funeral directors,
so Mike's task shouldn't be too unpleasant.
these people have been dead in their house for days, weeks,
sometimes months, and as soon as you open the door,
the smell can be quite horrific, for obvious reasons.
So we always have a quick check first, we do a simple sniff test.
That sounds ridiculous, but to see if we can bear the smell in there.
If Mike fails to find any information that identifies
any surviving relatives, the local authority will fund the funeral.
Let's open the curtains.
So Mike and his colleague Andrew begin a thorough search of the flat.
What we're looking for is any personal stuff that will tell us a lot about
who the gentleman is, we need birth certificates,
any bank books, any bank details,
anything that would link us to another member of his family we can contact.
That's what the aim, really, is today.
And also to take out any valuable belongings of the gentleman
that we can, well, for safety purposes,
but we may have to sell them in order to pay towards his funeral.
-I've found a big metal box.
-Is there a key in it?
-There's no key in it?
We find all sorts when we're going through people's belongings -
criminal records, all sorts of issues in some of them,
but that's not for us to judge.
We're just there to make sure the funeral is carried out
in the right and proper way.
He looks organised.
Yeah, passport, everything here, bank statement, that's great.
This helps us paint a picture of this guy,
maybe lead to who he is and who his family are.
What we'll do, we'll take this file back, go through that in detail.
Having uncovered personal information,
Mike and Andrew set about searching for any valuables.
Just take that. Magnetic therapy,
but I'll take it because it's classed as jewellery, isn't it?
Doesn't feel right, somehow, going through somebody's personal belongings.
It just feels like you're intruding a bit, but unfortunately, it's
something we have to do, because there's nobody else to do it.
What's that? Here we are. A picture of him.
Ah. I always find it,
when you see a photograph it makes it more real, doesn't it?
You can relate to the person who lived here then.
I think anyone who works with the council should have that enjoyment
in making sure we are delivering services well for the public.
And I just want to make sure things go well for people,
particularly in the bereavement side of things.
That last chapter of people's lives, really.
There's Christmas cards here, so
we could find phone numbers on Christmas cards, Andrew.
-You know, for a family member, anything.
Here we are. What's this?
We'll take these back and go through them in detail.
Don't drop them. They might be in some sort of order, that lot.
Mike and Andrew leave the property with just a small amount of cash
and some valuables but the box they've discovered could
provide them with vital information.
Coming up - the officers continue their investigation.
Here you are - birth certificate. Brilliant. That's what I'm after.
But will they be able to find out enough to help give the man
a fitting funeral?
Despite having no legal duty to provide burial space,
most local councils in the UK
maintain and manage cemeteries for their residents.
Estimates suggest that there are around 4,000 in the UK.
Tameside Council looks after eight cemeteries, which means grave-digger
Geoff Dale and his assistant Matt Smith are always busy.
Today, they're performing essential checks on headstones.
Checking a big headstone like that,
obviously you've got to stand clear of it in case it goes.
That's passed, that.
In the past, somebody's been killed by a falling monument.
So it were brought to the attention of the HSE and that's why we do it.
We have to do these annual checks on all the headstones
to make sure that it's a safe place for the public to come into.
It's passed at the front.
It's failed at the back.
They're testing the stability of every headstone, applying
the same amount of pressure as a person leaning against them would.
A fail means they have to secure the headstone,
ensuring no mourners are in danger.
-That's not coming off, is it?
-No. Don't want it coming off.
While our local authorities manage our cemeteries,
the graves within them belong to the families who've purchased the plots.
It's their responsibility to repair headstones like this,
so for now, the lads make this one safe.
The family will be contacted if they're contactable and then
this is supposed to stay on for three months then.
And if after three months nothing happens,
it's supposed to be taken off and laid down.
In this cemetery,
there are currently around 4,000 graves to check.
Jeff and Matt are up to 1,464.
But finding graves with 17th-century maps is not
a walk in the park for these 21st-century council workers.
No, I've got 1,796.
Not 1,797, though.
Have you got 1,798?
-The one we want, 1,896, is that way.
We're getting somewhere now, aren't we?
Cos it might be round the corner, you know.
-You know, past them shrubs.
-Right. 93, 94.
Do you reckon it's in there, then?
-Oh, aye, yeah - it's here.
-You got it?
Yeah. You just get in. Just have a check of that one, eh?
-You just have a check of it, mate.
-I've got, er, Aaron Townsend.
-That's it, mate. Townsend - 1928?
-Er, 1928, yeah.
-That's it. That's 1,896.
That's a pass.
-Yeah, it's a pass.
-We're making progress.
My map skills aren't the best but they're getting better.
Jeff's map skills - yeah, he's about as good as me!
With one more grave ticked off, there's just 2,635 to go.
Just one of them days.
Across the UK, council officers are working day and night
on our behalf, trying to keep their borough and its inhabitants safe.
Today, after finding an unusual ingredient in a takeaway,
a concerned resident has called on the council for help.
A lady had purchased a curry from a restaurant in the Tameside area.
Upon eating this takeaway, she thinks she may have stumbled
across what might be an insect of some description.
Worried Emma Sandbach e-mailed Bev Hursthouse
after making the discovery.
We brought a takeout home from the restaurant
and halfway through,
we discovered a black sort of beetle.
Despite being a delicacy for over two billion people worldwide,
some insects like cockroaches can cause illnesses like dysentery
and gastroenteritis -
exactly the potential risk to public health
council heroes like Bev are fighting to stamp out.
The restaurant where they picked the takeaway up from,
it's got a really good reputation. It carries the five stars.
It's had a recent routine hygiene visit.
They've got a pest-contracting place.
-Hiya. Is it Emma?
-It is, yeah.
If Emma's suspicions are correct, the restaurant will be
in for a nasty surprise, because it could be closed down.
OK, so this is the...
The complaint we got from you, um - you purchased a chicken masala.
-So you dined in and brought a takeaway out for husband.
-Is that right?
-And this is...you think it may be an insect of some description?
What I'm going to do, I'm just going to have a look while we're here.
If for any reason we do think it may be, obviously what I'll do is take
that away and we'll do some further investigation. If it was a beetle,
obviously nobody wants to find a beetle in their food.
Nobody wants to find that in any food business.
I'm going to tip that out there.
A beetle may just be one, you know, on its travels,
whereas a cockroach would sometimes indicate that there's a problem,
an infestation, and then we've got a problem in a food business.
I can identify that for you. It's not an insect. You're all right.
-What it is, it's one of the cardamoms, called a cardamom pod.
-Oh, right. Yeah.
-People react differently.
I mean, if I found what I felt was an insect in a curry,
I'd probably dissect it and investigate further.
However, a member of the public that's not, you know, familiar
with all the different forms of species and different forms of spices
and you know, may just be quite alerted at the fact
that something doesn't normally look like it should be in a takeaway
or a curry or any food item, really,
is obviously a bit of a problem.
What sometimes triggers the concern off is
-these little spikes here.
-That's what it was.
No, rest assured, it's definitely a cardamom pod.
I can tell that just from experience.
-You don't need to worry.
One thing I will say to you and it's the restaurant in question,
we've just had a recent food hygiene check,
so we know they're above board and everything's fine.
-They've been rated the five stars, as well.
Do you want me to leave you with that?
Yeah, I'll throw it in the bin now.
-I feel better now.
-Let hubby know that it was a cardamom pod,
-rather than something nasty.
-We really do appreciate your call.
We are here to advise and the aim of our job is to prevent people
from being harmed or becoming unwell.
If it is something that potentially could make you poorly,
or could cause you harm, or could cause any further harm,
or requires a product recall
or, you know, absolutely get in touch.
I thought it's best to check because if it was a beetle,
and we didn't do anything about it, then...
lots of people would be eating beetles.
I'm glad I didn't go back to the restaurant with it, anyway, asking for my money back.
That would have been even more embarrassing.
For the nation's unsung local heroes like Bev,
keeping us, the public, safe is an ongoing battle.
My job is really very varied.
We would look at investigating any sort of food borne illnesses,
or food outbreaks, you know, health and safety.
You know, we prevent them accidents.
We want to make sure people are doing a day's work
and going home at the end of the night.
Bev has joined forces with colleague Sian Dyer
to check up on a business that they've visited four times
in the last seven months.
On her last visit to this cash and carry,
Bev found numerous causes for concern.
So today they're making a surprise inspection.
The last visit there was some butchery equipment,
band saw machines. They've got some lifting equipment.
They're things that we need to double check on whilst we're here, as well.
Latest estimates show that workplace injuries and ill health
in Great Britain cost us £13.8 billion.
But without the vital inspections and spot checks
of council officers like Bev and Sian
these figures might be even higher.
-We're just here today to do your routine food inspection.
Just to have a look at your butchery area, as well.
-At the end of the visit we'll have a chat with you.
Great, all right, thanks very much.
We kind of look really at procedures.
We look at what they're doing. We look at how they're doing things.
We look to make sure they've got things in place
to keep things safe.
What we're doing at the moment, we're looking to make sure that all of the walkways are all clear.
Obviously, we look for cleanliness, we make sure there's no obstruction
and nobody's at risk of getting hurt, or anything.
Should illness or injury occur, the business itself could be prosecuted.
The council's responsibility is to check that health and safety protocols are being followed.
If they aren't, the business could be closed down.
-Is it all just raw meat that you cut up in here?
-You don't buy any cooked-in foods, or anything?
-No, just fresh.
It's all fresh, raw meat.
The officers have longstanding concerns about health and safety in this cash and carry.
Previous problems have arisen with the butcher's electric saw.
Is this isolated?
It's turned off?
Safety procedures have not been followed.
If not used with the protective guard, the saw could be lethal.
A lot of the work that was noted last time,
they've been actioned now,
so we can say some improvements have already been made.
I assume that the guards on the band saw,
I think when Sian has gone to have a look,
that was maybe one of the problems that was picked up last time.
-It's good, you've got your guard in place there.
It's good news. Atif the owner has acted on the council's previous guidance.
But Bev and Sian aren't finished yet.
-There's a storage room upstairs.
As they head upstairs, more potential problems appear.
-So this is all your dry stock up here, is it?
-I notice some of your levels are stacked quite high.
-Can you see?
If that tumbles, somebody's underneath that, you're in trouble.
-Does prayer take place up here, as well?
Yeah, OK. My concern is that your prayer mat here,
somebody's going to end up with bottles of Iru-Bru on their head.
Again, that's just something, we need to bring them levels down. OK.
As Bev's investigation goes on, one major issue emerges
and it's putting the store's employees and customers in danger.
How is the stock brought up here?
Is that brought upstairs?
Do you not have a guard that stops anybody falling over that?
The balcony opens onto an unguarded 15-foot drop.
There's nothing in place to prevent the dangerously high stock,
or employees, falling to the floor below.
Atif tries to solve the problem with a quick fix
- a flimsy piece of wood.
But it's nowhere near enough to satisfy the officers.
Let me check.
-Let me call the guy who will deal with it.
-That'd be great, thanks.
An employee tries to help out and comes to his boss's aid.
But Bev's concerns remain.
Am I right in thinking that guard's not being used at the moment?
Somebody is coming and using this one as well.
-Right, so it's normally when the forklift's...
-The forklift's not too much used in the week, or day, sorry.
The makeshift barrier is simply not good enough for Bev and Sian.
If stock was to fall from this height,
anyone below could be seriously injured.
If anyone falls onto here, it's going to topple over.
If you've got customers walking below,
you don't want that falling onto them.
We don't encourage customers, there's one yellow line...
You might not encourage it but as you've found yourself,
if you're not by the till and somebody else is,
it's going to be very difficult, isn't it?
-So when can the, erm...
-Definitely in a few days.
It needs to be done today.
I will try to do it today.
I'm short of staff, it's not easy, so...
My suggestion would be, close the door for ten minutes and do it.
Yeah, that's true.
-My concern is this has been mentioned before.
I'm losing confidence.
-You don't need to.
I'm losing confidence that one, it's going to be done today...
This shop is like, I'm running this shop from recently.
This used to be my brother's company, I bought from him.
And now... This is first time I have...
So definitely I will do it.
It is bread and butter for me, you know, I don't want to lose it.
-If it's not, we will look at serving notice, to make sure it gets done.
Coming up, Bev and Sian's inspection uncovers even more hazards
putting lives and the future of this business at risk.
I keep getting a smell of smoke.
Our country's unsung council heroes are on the front line
everyday fighting to make best use of the nation's money.
But because we're all paying for their services,
we've all got an opinion on their work, both good and bad.
I think overall, the council do a good job, but I do think they've
got to keep their priorities right and not waste money on stupid things.
I suppose they do their job reasonably well.
The council is very,
very good at making sure you pay your council tax.
They are not so good at checking up on some of their employees,
the bin men, for example.
They missed three streets not so very long ago
and when their department was phoned up and asked about it,
we were informed that all our bins had been emptied.
But in actual fact,
they were standing on the pavement full waiting to be emptied.
We are under austerity times
and there is only so much money in the pot.
At the end of the day, I think society has been spoiled
over the past 20 or 30 years with all
this increase in public spending, and the reality of it is we have
all been living beyond our means for a very, very long time.
And sooner or later, we have got to face the music.
We are now starting to face the music.
Local authorities nationwide might be battling funding cuts
but demand for their services doesn't cease,
neither does the determination of heroic officers like Bev and Sian.
Their inspection of a local cash and carry
has already highlighted some potentially lethal hazards.
-I'm losing confidence, really.
-You don't need to.
Now the officers are heading down into the bowels of the building.
Does your light work in here?
It does on this one, but that one it's not working.
It's not working really, it needs tidying up, doesn't it?
Is smoking taking place down here? I keep getting a smell of smoke.
I don't smoke.
There is no evidence but I keep getting a smell of smoke
so you need to make sure your staff are not coming down and smoking.
Smoking in the work place is illegal.
I think we've found the smoke room.
Fines of up to £2,500 can be issued,
a huge sum for small business owners like Atif.
OK, this is something that needs to be stopped.
It's not the smell that's the problem, the problem is it's not
legal to smoke in a work business or indoors in a place like this.
The problems continue to mount for Atif.
And the more they investigate, the more Bev and Sian uncover.
Is there a light down here?
Yeah, there is a light...
-This one here?
-Yeah, that's the one.
-OK. Little bit wet, that one.
-Where's the moisture coming from?
The water running down the light switch is a serious breach
of health and safety guidelines.
-Don't touch it.
-No, I'm going to not touch that one.
It increases the chance of an employee suffering
a potentially fatal electric shock.
In one year alone in Great Britain, 350,000 people were injured,
and 28 people killed
by low voltage electrocutions.
-I need to change it, definitely.
-Who's put this on for you?
-This one guy.
-He's an electrician, is he?
He's a proper electrician, qualified, yeah.
You need to get him back out to have a look at that.
-Definitely, it's a bit risky.
-It's a lot risky!
Sometimes you can see that problems have occurred that perhaps could be
rectified quite quickly,
and problems that are occurring that is probably not something
they've picked up on. But on the other end of the scale,
you have businesses that are flouting the law,
they're cutting every corner to make...
Money really is just what's important to them and nothing else.
With customers and employees at serious risk of electrical shock,
stock piled dangerously high and an unguarded drop
of 15 feet, this business has a lot of work to do.
I think what we'll probably do is call back a little bit later.
As I said to you earlier, I'm not sure
if you have got any more employees coming in tonight to do
an evening shift or anything, but I think it is all hands on deck
at the moment, and even if it means closing the business for
10 or 15 minutes and just bringing that to a reasonable level.
But we will pop back later this afternoon and have a look at that.
Thank you very much.
The owners now have two hours
to address these vital health and safety issues.
If they don't make significant changes,
Bev and Sian have the power to close the business until they do.
Across the borough, at the council's crematorium, Mike Gurney is going
through the documents he found at the recently deceased man's home.
Main thing we're looking for is contact with family.
So let's get some...
-Let's get that. Is that the issue paper?
It seems that the man died without any surviving relatives.
In the UK, when this happens,
it's the council's job to arrange their funeral.
Mike and his team work hard to ensure that everyone is given a
respectful farewell, no matter what their personal circumstances are.
The council have a funeral director contracted to work with us,
so we do get a reduced price,
and we have a funeral director that we use regularly.
And it's about £1,300 for a basic funeral.
Here y'are. Look. Birth certificate.
Brilliant. That's what I'm after.
That'll give us more information, won't it? Look at these.
Oh, this is good.
This will give us... Copy of birth certificate. Born, Tameside Hospital.
-He had a driving licence.
-That is good.
We found that he was a man who'd been in employment for most of his life.
We found he'd been a bus driver, he'd done engineering, got certificates
in engineering. He was very into his films. He enjoyed doing quizzes.
This looks like old job stuff.
It looks like he has been looking for work for a long time.
He kept a log of all the jobs he had applied for and couldn't get a job.
He was obviously a very organised man, that's what came across.
We've got his confirmed date of birth there is 31 May 1958,
what does that make him? 55, isn't it?
Mike's efforts are paying off.
He's discovered a lot about the dead man, Stephen Jones' life.
Four blank cards. No addresses on any.
But he hasn't found anything to link him with relatives.
It's looking like we can't find any family details.
I'll be taking this on board now to raise a funeral
so we can stop any further delay.
And give him a good send off.
With no remaining family, Mike's quest to arrange a fitting farewell
for Stephen is not easy.
Still to come,
the day of the funeral arrives but will Mike be able to galvanise the
community to pay their respects to a quiet neighbour they barely knew?
It's been two hours since enforcement officers
Bev and Sian told the cash and carry
with a dangerous drop to make its premises safe.
I'm losing confidence that it's going to be done today.
If it's not, then we will look at serving a notice.
How have we done up there? Can we have a look? Is that all right?
Now the officers are back.
If the owners haven't made the business safe,
the store could be shut down.
This is better, OK. So, the pallets they'll be taken away, will they?
-OK, so the issue we've got we need to lower these.
With the barrier in place, the shop has taken some steps towards
improving safety, and Bev and Sian decide it can stay open.
We will monitor that business.
It will still come up in the programmed inspections,
and revisits will occur obviously to check that they are complying
with any contraventions that were identified at the time.
-Thanks very much.
-Thanks very much.
So I would say now that the business has become compliant.
They are more aware, obviously, of the dangers.
They will continue to work with myself
and my colleague to put right what was wrong.
The council will keep a close eye on this business to ensure
the public and employees stay safe and secure.
Across the country our heroic local council officers share
a strong sense of commitment to the people they serve.
And their dedication often extends to days
when they're supposed to be off duty.
This morning, the borough's annual triathlon is taking place, and
as always, officers from the local authority are on hand to help out.
A lot of council officers live and work in the borough
and it's not unusual to see them in different roles.
You might see them one day at work, you might see them
the next day leading or marshalling in the triathlon, or other events.
Council staff like Ian have volunteered to help out,
ensuring the event runs smoothly and keeping competitors safe.
I get involved in the triathlon because I'm involved with the local cycling club
and it is about the community giving something back,
bringing the community out and giving people a go.
What we wanted here was something that anybody could come and have a go at.
There'll be different abilities in the group and you can have a go
and you'd be supported in a friendly environment.
People might go away and think, "I'll take up cycling, I might join the gym.
"I might start running." That's only going to be a good thing.
The triathlon starts with a 500-metre swim,
followed by a 15-kilometre mountain bike ride.
To finish, competitors have a 10-kilometre run to complete.
To show how it's done, the council's chief executive,
Steve Pleasant, is taking part.
I'm very nervous at the moment
because I have never done anything like this before in my life.
I don't know how I got convinced to do it.
It was an act of bravado but now, actually, I'm very, very anxious.
This is all about survival today, from me.
If I can just get through and get round, I'll be very, very happy.
For chief exec, Steve...
..and council officers, like Mike...
and Bev, giving up their time is a way to do
more for their residents and have a bit of fun.
I love it. I get to tell people I'm taking part in the triathlon
and they just think, naturally, that I'm riding,
swimming or running. I'm not, I'm just doing the easy bit
of standing here and making sure they stick by the path.
Yeah, it's good fun.
Straight right. Well done.
It's a wet and windy Sunday morning
and it's not just the competitors keeping Mike busy.
You're going right. Oh!
Come on, Dobbin.
I didn't know that was in my job description!
It's just a great team at work, it really is.
There are so many organisations relying on charitable work, these days.
You know, councils can't always support them like they used to.
So we just want to get involved with the community, the best we can.
It's good fun, it's keeping healthy, it's keeping fit.
That's what it's about.
After a gruelling two hours,
the council's chief executive is coming to the end of his ordeal.
That was hard.
That was really hard.
Anyway, I'm very happy now, very happy indeed.
I need you to just leave me alone while I sit down and die somewhere.
Thank you very much.
Steve is one of over 100 people who took part.
He decided to lead by example and, having done months of training
ahead of the event, he's eager to see where he finished.
I came 19th.
Very respectable, I'm very pleased with that.
This is the first time I've ever done a triathlon, so, really good.
What a great event. What a fantastic event. All these people doing this.
The weather was OK.
Everyone has had a really great time.
In first place, our champion for 2013,
in a time of 1:47:31,
representing the High Peaks Cycles,
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
The hard work of the dedicated volunteers has ensured
the event was a huge success.
If you're working in the public sector
then your motivations will be very much about improving the lot of the local community.
It's no surprise that you'll find people who work in the Town Hall
actually involved with the church, involved with the food bank,
involved with organising triathlons
because they want to make a difference locally.
Ian and his colleagues will be back at the council in the morning.
For some, the work doesn't end here.
My work's not finished, no.
I've got to go out and collect all the signs in now!
It's a new day and, at the crematorium, Mike Gurney
is making last-minute preparations ahead of the funeral
of resident Stephen Jones, a man who died with no surviving family.
It's Mike here from the Environmental Services. I'm dealing with a community funeral.
It's absolutely critical to me that things go well.
You know, all sorts can go wrong but it's for us
to make sure the public don't know what's gone wrong
and to make sure their service is spot-on, really.
The minister taking the service thought it would be appropriate if I did a reading today.
I don't know the gentleman but you feel like when you've been through his belongings at home
you start to get a picture of the chap.
I've chosen a reading which I thought was appropriate for today's funeral.
Mike and the council team have been working hard to ensure that
Stephen gets a good send-off.
We've notified a lot of the neighbours near where Stephen lived
because a lot of these funerals there's nobody there.
This one today, I think, there will be a number of people coming which will be great.
There seems to be a lot of community spirit in the area where
Stephen lived and they are all wanting to pay their respects.
Mike's efforts have paid off.
Stephen's neighbours and other members of the community
have arrived at the crematorium.
Normally for community funerals there's nobody there except myself,
or my staff, who always sit in on a funeral. We never let a funeral go ahead with nobody there.
Stephen's was a different one because he lived in an area
where neighbours looked out for each other.
And, erm, it was a good turnout for him. I was pleased, yeah.
In front of the gathered mourners, it falls to Mike to give
a reading about a man he never met but has recently come to know.
I would like to say thank you, on behalf of Tameside Council,
for attending Stephen's funeral today.
What's become clear in arranging this funeral is the community spirit
in the Dukinfield area, where Stephen lived
and the desire to give Stephen, your neighbour, your friend,
your drinking partner, maybe, a proper send-off.
Going through all his belongings in his house, you feel like you get to know somebody a little bit
and nobody else, there was no other family.
It just felt fitting that I should do a reading.
"You can remember him and only that he is gone.
"Or, you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
"You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
"or you can do what he would want,
"smile, open your eyes, love and go on."
In helping to galvanise the community,
Mike has ensured that Stephen received a gracious send-off.
He had a smile for people, as we know.
We would see him shopping, we'd say hello,
pass a few words but not too many.
We didn't know too much about him.
I think it went very well, really.
It was good to see so many people there
and it was good that community spirit, that was clearly evident.
A lot of them commented how lovely the service was.
They all said they learnt a lot about him they didn't know,
which was from the information we found in his flat, really.
You know, I think it went really well and I feel we've done him justice.
Mike's hard work has ensured a respectful funeral for a man
who died without any family to say farewell.
It's another vital role our councils perform
and one that most of us don't even think about.
There's probably lots of things in the council that people are doing that the public aren't aware of.
It's not something you advertise, it's something that's done quietly
and, you know, without too much fuss.
It's something that we do regularly
and it's sad to think there are people out there, in our borough,
living alone, on their own, that people haven't noticed
they're missing, which I find quite sad in many ways.
That's the way society is, I suppose.
There's probably people in all our streets that are living alone
and recluse and people don't realise they've died.
Once again the country's dedicated council officers have been
hard at work.
They have reassured worried residents.
-It's not an insect, you're all right.
-We call it a cardamom pod.
Ensured businesses keep their premises safe for customers
and employees alike.
Do you not have a guard there that stops, obviously, anybody falling over that?
And looked after their residents in life and in death.
I'd just like to say thank you on behalf of Tameside Council
for attending Stephen's funeral today.
All this when we call the council.
Hello, Bereavement Services.
I don't know what will be on my gravestone but people often ask
what's going to happen to me when I die.
I've told them I'm going to be cremated
and I'm going to have my ashes scattered at Harvey Nichols in Manchester.
That's because at least my wife will visit me twice a week!
This episode shows how local councils care for us in life and in death as Mike Gurney, head of the bereavement services team, turns detective when a resident dies alone. Environmental health officers help a resident worried by what she finds in her curry, and respond when staff and shoppers are put in danger at a cash and carry.