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Newmarket councillors anger at move to speed up new clerks start

Moves to speed up the start date of Newmarket Town Council’s new clerk were the cause of a row at Monday’s meeting of the authority.

It centred around the mayor, Cllr Rachel Hood, and Cllr Andy Drummond, getting the new clerk’s contract organised without reference to the council’s human resources committee. The appointment of Debbie Baines had been noted by councillors at their meeting on April 20 ‘with a start date to be agreed’.

Cllr Mick Jeffreys said the councillors did not have the power to act ‘unilaterally’ and Cllr Chris O’Neill said the move was designed to undermine Deborah Sarson, the acting town council manager (TCM), and was a ‘joke’, as the new clerk’s start date was still to be agreed by the council.

Newmarket Suffolk Memorial HallPicture Mark Westley. (34531277)
Newmarket Suffolk Memorial HallPicture Mark Westley. (34531277)

He called on the mayor to resign.

Cllr Hood insisted she had followed the same practice as previous mayors and Ms Sarson had agreed to a ‘seamless transition’ in early May.

The mayor’s move came against a background of some criticism of the 98 hours’ overtime worked in a three week period by Ms Sarson – at £30 an hour – during the set up of the council’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Cllr O’Neill insisted that was nothing compared to the £62.50 an hour the authority had paid to consultant Pete Cooper who worked for the council in the absence of a full-time clerk a few years ago.

Cllr Sarah Ceasar called the mayor’s move ‘ill-timed’.

“It just feels like we are rushing this handover of staff,” she said.

Cllr Tom Kerby said: “I am a member of the human resources committee and I was not asked about this. This was to get rid of Deborah Sarson.”

Councillors agreed to honour the agreement for the new town clerk to be paid seven hours a week for induction time from May 4, and that the current acting TCM continue in her role liaising with the new clerk as appropriate, until the council agreed a date for her to start full time on terms to be agreed.

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