Angry scenes at Newmarket town meeting could see U-turn
A council is to review its controversial decision to exclude all its non-Conservative members from its decision-making committees.
A heated annual meeting of the town on Tuesday was dominated by criticism of the move by town residents who turned up to express their anger at the decision which has seen 50 per cent of the councillors elected at the local election frozen out.
Joy Uney, a previous Labour councillor on the town council, said: “All this has achieved is to divide the town once again and it is not working for the town.”
Current town councillor Chris O’Neill claimed newly elected town mayor Cllr Rachel Hood had acted unconstitutionally in using her casting vote as mayor to prevent the election of non-Conservatives to the council’s committees. He quoted the council’s constitution as stating one of the mayor’s roles was to ‘promote political neutrality’.
Labour councillor and former town mayor Mick Jefferys, a member of the authority for 20 years, said: “I feel I have been excluded from being part of this council,” and he put a proposal to the meeting that all town councillors should be able to be members of all the council’s committee. A show of hands indicated a majority of those in attendance were in favour of his proposal.
Cllr Hood told the meeting the council would now be ‘reviewing the situation and looking at its standing orders’ but would not be drawn on when that might be.
Following the local council elections, the 18- member council was made up of nine Conservatives, six West Suffolk Independents and three Labour councillors.
In the past, members simply volunteered to serve on the committees of which they wished to be part, with committee chairmen being elected once the committees had been formed.
But at the first full meeting of the newly elected council, the process was changed with the controlling Conservative group voting against every non-Tory councillor and the mayor’s casting vote resulting in every committee being made up wholly of Conservatives.
The move was legal according to the authority’s own rules or standing orders, but was unprecedented in the council’s 20-year history.
Larger authorities are required to have a political balance on their committees but this only applies to ‘principal’ councils not smaller town or parish authorities which are usually regarded as non-political organisations.