Uckfield began the new year without a town clerk.
The resignation of the outgoing Uckfield Town Council clerk, Ashley Serpis, was announced on October 8 and he left the authority on Christmas Eve.
Councillors had hoped to have a locum clerk in place, starting from Monday (January 4) but no suitable applications were received, writes Paul Watson.
They met last night (January 5) to try and bring momentum to the recruitment process.
Chairman of the general purposes committee, Cllr Ian Smith, Independent, Ridgewood, admitted they had not moved forward “one inch” since the resignation of Mr Serpis.
Cllr Chris Macve, Trust Independent, North Ward, expressed disquiet that the council was without a town clerk.
He said: “We still haven’t got one. The clerk has now gone; we are without a clerk.
“It is absolutely no way to run a business to have an organisation with a turnover approaching a million pounds and no-one to steer it. If you had a business and did that, you would go bust.
“It is totally inefficient.”
‘Very, very badly handled
Cllr Macve added: “I just think the whole thing has been very, very badly handled and I would like to register my disquiet.”
Cllr Smith said the purpose of the meeting was to move the process forward. “We are a £1.2 million business operation without a head steering us at the moment.
“There is no prospect of finding a locum. We now need to take some urgent and drastic action,” he said.
Not moved forward one inch
“We are three months from when the town clerk tendered his resignation and we have not moved one inch.”
Vice-chairman, Paul Meakin, Liberal Democrat, Central Ward, said the council staff as of January 4 did not know who the boss was. “We as a council should have dealt with these issues,” he said.
After setting out plans for the interview process of a new clerk and agreeing to more widely advertise the post, members went into private session to discuss interim arrangements.
One possibility was to ask the assistant town clerk and responsible financial officer, Christine Wheatley, to stand-in as town clerk until a permanent post-holder took up the position.
A report to members said she had undertaken the work before between the appointment of Mr Serpis and his predecessor.
Staffing at the council offices would need to be bolstered because it would not be possible for Ms Wheatley to do both her present job and that of town clerk.
The committee also heard of the likely costs of recruiting a new clerk. They were
- HR specialists – £291
- Sussex and Surrey Association of Local Councils [advisers] – £780 (minimum)
Additional costs could include:
- More widespread advertising
- Refreshments on the interview dates
- Overnight accommodation if second interviews required.
A report said:
“Generally the recruitment of a new town clerk does not occur often so it is essential that the selection process is as transparent and as comprehensive as possible.
“Whilst this may take a little more time and incur some additional expenditure it is strongly suggested that time and money is spent to ensure that the town is well served by its clerk.”
The job advertisement says the salary would be between £46,264 and £49,815, plus qualification increments with a review after 12 months.
Members of the general purposes committee present at the meeting were
Chair: Cllr Ian Smith, Independent, Ridgewood
Vice-chair: Cllr Paul Meakin, Liberal Democrat, Central
Cllr James Anderson, Trust Independent, North
Cllr Jacqueline Beckford, Liberal Democrat, Ridgewood
Cllr Louise Eastwood, Trust Independent, North
Cllr Keith Everett, Independent, Ridgewood
Cllr Helen Firth, Conservative, Central
Cllr Paul Sparks, Liberal Democrat, North
Cllr Diane Ward, Trust Independent, Central