A council came under fire yesterday for spending £7,000 of taxpayers’ money on a private neck operation for their clerk.
Isabelle Barrett, the clerk of Newmarket Town Council in Suffolk, has been off work since March with an “ongoing neck complaint.”
But instead of asking the deputy town clerk to replace her the council voted to pay £6,900 for Mrs. Barrett to have specialist surgery on her neck.
Council leader and mayor Cllr George Lambton argued that Mrs. Barrett, 45, would have had to wait six weeks to have the operation on the NHS.
Three Labour councillors voted against the decision and said taxpayer’s money should not have been used to get Mrs Barrett priority treatment.
They accused the council of attempting to cover up the cost of the treatment by holding secret meetings to discuss it.
And they said it was unfair for one employee to receive private healthcare when others do not.
Local resident Sally Wilsoncroft, 67, of Newmarket, Suffolk, said: “How dare councillors vote to spend our money on private healthcare for an employee?
“No doubt Isabelle Barrett is very good at her job – probably better than many of the councillors are at their job of running our town.
“If she has a painful problem she should use the NHS or, if she can afford to, use private medicine if she chooses.”
Fellow resident Ted Landymore, 63, added: “Would it not have been nicer and more appropriate to dip into their own pockets to aid their colleague, and not those of the over-taxed householders and rate payers?”
The three Labour councillors who voted against paying for the treatment have called for the council to publish a full report on the issue.
Mayor Lambton has since announced that the issue will be brought before the next full council meeting on May 23 where residents can voice their opinions.
He said: “We did it in order to give us the best chance of the town clerk returning to work as soon as possible.
“We wanted to ensure she was off work for the shortest amount of time possible.
“We run the town council based on the numbers of staff. We need a full complement of staff.
“We took the view that it was in the best interests of the council
“We were told the NHS waiting list would be six weeks but that it could be considerably longer than that.
“We would have had to get in a replacement on a consultancy basis which would cost a considerable amount of money.
“Obviously there are alot of unknowns in this.
“The operation has been a success but we have not heard when she will be back at work.”
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s important that council staff are fit for work so that taxpayers are not paying a hefty amount of sick pay.
“However, taxpayers are right to question why exactly the council has forked out thousands for this private surgery.
“Local residents want to know that the money they pay in tax is being spent in the most cost effective manner so the Town Councillors have a lot of explaining to do as to why they splashed out on costly medical procedures.”