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'This is undemocratic': Fury as all non-Tory councillors are excluded from Newmarket Town Council's committees

Newmarket Suffolk Memorial HallPicture Mark Westley. (9943155)
Newmarket Suffolk Memorial HallPicture Mark Westley. (9943155)

Half of the councillors elected on Thursday to Newmarket Town Council have been frozen out of the authority’s decision-making committees.

In an unprecedented move, the Conservative group – which is in control of the council by virtue of the re-elected mayor Cllr Rachel Hood’s casting vote – voted against every non-Tory councillor who expressed an interest in joining the authority’s main committees – planning, community services and leisure.

As a result, these committees are now made up wholly of Conservative councillors.

After Thursday’s local elections, the 18-member council was made up of nine Conservatives, six West Suffolk Independents and three Labour members. In the past members simply volunteered to serve on the committees of which they wished to be part, but on Monday the process was changed much to the surprise of the non-Conservative members, who were left furious and frustrated by the move.

Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr James Lay
Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr James Lay

Former town mayor and Labour member Cllr Michael Jefferys, insisted its was the Conservative group which was making the council into a political council, in which case each of the groups should be represented proportionately on all committees.

“How are we meant to serve the people who voted for us if we are not able to serve on any committee,” he said.

And newly elected Labour councillor Ollie Bowen said: “We must have some proportionality. We have all been voted in by the people of Newmarket and I request sincerely that we have a balance.”

After the meeting Cllr Andy Drummond, who is chairman of the Newmarket branch of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, said: “Despite the national mood towards the Brexit deadlock with many councils going to no overall control, West Suffolk has maintained a Conservative majority, which means that we can get on with the job. However, it’s clear that some people in Newmarket have exercised their protest vote and, sadly, this was in part directed towards the town council.

Cllr Michael Jefferys
Cllr Michael Jefferys

“Newmarket Town Council is, effectively, a large parish council, and under current legislation it does not have to form its committees within political balance.

“Historically, standing orders allowed any member to put themselves forward, and chairs and vice-chairs were elected by the committee. However, a couple of years ago it was recognised that this was an unsatisfactory situation to be in, so councillors, collectively, voted to amend the standing orders to allow councillors to do exactly what we did last night.

“This was ratified by the full council of the time.”

“It means so long as the committees stay within their terms of reference the Conservatives will be able to ensure that the council remains functional and productive. I think this will be very popular with my Conservative supporters. Clearly not popular with non-Conservatives but it does avoid a stifling deadlock,” said Cllr Drummond.

Cllr Andrew Appleby
Cllr Andrew Appleby

Also speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jefferys said: “There is no precedent for this. The process we witnessed is undemocratic. Here are councillors who want to serve their communities and the Conservative group is preventing them from fulfilling that role. How can they represent the people who voted for them? This is a disgraceful situation and the actions of the Conservative group should be condemned.”

Cllr Andy Appleby, representing the West Suffolk Independents added: “I am dismayed at the Conservatives’ seeming concept of democracy and that their new members seem to have been instructed how to vote, rather than make their own decisions.I believe the matter must be referred to the Standards Committee.”

Town council manager Roberta Bennett confirmed during the meeting that proportionality rules only applied to ‘principal councils’ not town or parish authorities.

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