Futures Forum: Lobbying
Futures Forum: Lobbying or Advocacy?
Can the East Devon Business Forum be described as a 'lobbying' body?
There has been discussion on this for some time:
East Devon Business Forum
From: helen newman
8 February 2011
East Devon Business Forum - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
EDDC’s response to Sandra Semple on East Devon Business Forum... the Forum was created to facilitate improved dialogue between the Council and the District’s business community and has enjoyed some pleasing success.
EDDC’s response to Sandra Semple on East Devon Business Forum | Communities Before Developers
According to its own website, the EDBF should have a close relationship with the District Council:
Comments on this entry at: East Devon Business Forum – some perplexing questions | Sidmouth Independent News
The question remains as to whether the EDBF is an open forum or closed:
At a meeting of the District Council's Overview & Scrutiny Committee in September 2012, the status of the EDBF was considered:
Tony Green, a Sidmouth resident, asked why the Council listened to the East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) lobby, when, in his opinion, the EDBF has a key interest in planning matters. He also asked if the Committee felt that the current membership of the Forum risked the impartiality of the Members and if it also put officers into a difficult position. He informed the Committee that the Forum did not have a favourable public perception.
Roy Stuart, Vice Chairman of the EDBF, reminded the Committee of why the Forum was set up and the contents of its constitution. He outlined the varied membership of the Forum. He told the Committee of the Forum’s work in investigating the Atkins report and how their work found only 6 hectares of viable employment land. The Tym report more recently used had not been referred to the Forum. He had not seen or been consulted on employment land designated at Sidford. He reminded the Committee of the importance of the Forum, on a small budget, to assist in the current economic climate in providing strong links to other sectors, including the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
These are postings on the September meeting from Independent District Councillor Claire Wright:
At the first meeting in December 2012 of the District Council's TAFF looking into the East Devon Business Forum, these questions were raised:
Paul Newman’s question related to the scope of the TAFF. He mentioned the
background of the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum and was concerned that the Business Forum had been used in the past as a lobby group to help get planning applications passed. The TAFF needed to investigate whether the Business Forum was a trustworthy organisation.
Tony Green a Sidmouth Resident stated that he had produced a paper on a review of the EDBF minutes. He was concerned that the TAFF’s scope excluded 2 of the key concerns, regarding the Local Plan and planning permissions. In his view the EDBF had undue influence over planning policy. He also commented on the confused legal state of EDBF which he felt had risked compromising both
Councillors and Officers. This led to a number of conflicting interests. He felt that the key objective of EDBF was to lobby the Council on behalf of business. The Council needed to clarify the status of EDBF.
Tony Green had two questions:
The first was, if EDBF was an independent lobby group then why were Councillors and Officers working for it?
Secondly, if EDBF was part of the Council why was the Council supporting a lobby group?
The Chief Executive confirmed that... the TAFF was not independent nor quasi judicial.
There have been questions about the veracity of the Minutes:
Minutes Manipulation at EDDC? | Save Our Sidmouth
Whitewash? Hogwash? You decide. EDDC’s Chief Executive gives his view? legal opinion? opinion? who knows! | Sidmouth Independent News
The Express & Echo produced a very through report on the meeting:
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED!
Despite a major influence on planning issues being the catalyst for establishing Tuesday night's East Devon District Council (EDDC) scrutiny committee to investigate East Devon Business Forum, the subject has been vetoed on the advice of officers.
The meeting – possibly one of the most controversial ever staged at East Devon District Council - was quite bizarrely almost completely devoid of conservative councillors, save the three serving on the committee and a further three who were observing proceedings.
Not a single member of East Devon Business Forum (EDBF) appeared to be present either.
Around 50 members of the public attended but the absence of EDBF and almost all the 43 members of the ruling group, including the chairman, leader, deputy leader, and most of the cabinet, gave the distinct impression of a mass boycott.
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | This is Exeter
As, again, did Cllr Wright:
Several papers were produced at this time, analysing the position and influence of the EDBF:
The dossier provided to every councillor by Mr Green regarding the East Devon Business Forum | Sidmouth Independent News
At the March 2013 meeting of the TAFF, the issue was revisited:
The Council’s view of the East Devon Business Forum
Debate on the role of a joint body, particularly with reference to
allegations of inappropriate lobbying.
A definition of lobbying is: “in a professional capacity, attempting to
influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom
Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations,
regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within
In January 2009 the House of Commons Public Administration Select
Committee published a report 'Lobbying: Access and Influence in
Whitehall' which noted, amongst other findings, that:
“The practice of lobbying in order to influence political decisions is a
legitimate and necessary part of the democratic process. Individuals and
organisations reasonably want to influence decisions that may affect
them, those around them, and their environment. Government in turn
needs access to the knowledge and views that lobbying can bring.”
Councillor Claire Wright considered that it would not be possible to have a
discussion on lobbying if the TAFF could not consider planning issues. Councillor Mike Allen also considered that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee should access the implications including consideration of planning and the planning process if within its scope.
Councillor Mike Allen... considered that it was acceptable to have overt lobbying. It was important to spend public money effectively.
Councillor Claire Wright wished to take issue with the Council’s definition of lobbying contained on the agenda. She considered that EDDC needed to define better how lobbying was taking place.
During discussion the following points and questions were noted:
> An issue was that EDBF was a joint body of the Council and included people
who stood to gain from lobbying;
> In some ways it was useful for bodies to lobby the Council as long as this
lobbying was open and transparent;
> It would be useful to establish a group to define what was acceptable lobbying within the Council.
And this coincided with the so-called 'Browngate' scandal:
Cllr Graham Brown, Chairman of East Devon Business Forum, will be under scrutiny at tomorrow’s TAFF meeting, 6pm at Knowle. | Save Our Sidmouth
Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice - Telegraph
BREAKING: Graham Brown resigns from EDDC - News - Exmouth Journal
And in its wake, the EDBF reformed:
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Group... or Forum
Futures Forum: Lobbying and transparency, continued...
It has always been a question of how much influence this 'lobbying group' has had over the allocation of Employment Land within the Local Plan:
Planning issues ARE within the scope of the Business TAFF | Save Our Sidmouth
And the chair of the Futures Forum raised the issue of the reliability of the District Council's CEO
The Chief Executive and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (28 March) | Save Our Sidmouth
Which echoed similar concerns:
The Chief Executive, the Business Forum, and the LGO | Save Our Sidmouth
An interesting exchange of correspondence with EDDC’s Chief Executive regarding the EDBF Task and Finish Forum | Sidmouth Independent News
Following a 'summer lull', the scheduled TAFF meeting for September was postponed:
Chairman makes decision to postpone next Business TAFF meeting | Save Our Sidmouth
Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 1
Meeting to discuss controversial East Devon Business Forum postponed | Exeter Express and Echo
And there was a more in-depth report last week from the Express & Echo:
Delay on business row group
THE postponement of a group set up to examine the relationship between a controversial business group with East Devon District Council has been criticised.
Last September, councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee ruled that a sub-committee should be set up to scrutinise the East Devon Business Forum, branded by critics "a lobby for developers".
Since the formation of the Task and Finish Forum (Taff), there have been three meetings – in December, March and June – and its scope has been a constant topic of debate.
In June, following the withdrawal of officer support from the Forum, it was rebranded the East Devon Business Group in a bid to making a "fresh start".
The next Taff meeting, scheduled for September 2, has now been postponed.
The decision was made by Taff chairman, Councillor Graham Troman.
He said: "This is to await the outcome of discussions within the business community on the setting up of a forum. We will invite representatives of the proposed business forum to a future meeting of the Business Taff with them to outline their plans. The Taff can then refer back to its previous discussions with business representatives and decide on any principles of good practice it would like to recommend in managing its relationship with the business community."
He also confirmed that the delay was to ensure that the work of the Taff did not delay the Local Plan process.
But critics are questioning the reason for the delay, highlighting that the point of the Taff forming was to evaluate the former relationship between the business forum and the council.
However Cllr Troman confirmed that the remit of the Taff, which includes looking into what influence the Forum had on determining the level of employment land to be included in the emerging Local Plan, would be fulfilled.
Earlier this year, although the issue of its influence on planning was a central reason for the formation of the group, council chief executive Mark Williams ruled it could not discuss planning for legal reasons.
However committee members subsequently debated the scope at the March meeting and a vote to put the influence the Forum has on the council's planning process was put back on the agenda.
There is a very useful timeline of the TAFF here:
The Business TAFF drags on | Sidmouth Independent News
East Devon Business Forum | Save Our Sidmouth
But to finish:
Here is an item from the Minutes of the EDBF from November 2006 - when Cllr Brown was its chair, until his resignation in March 2013.
This records how the compiler of the Atkins Report into Employment Land gave an interim presentation to the EDBF - and that he would be asked back to give the final presentation of the Report to the Forum the following January, BEFORE it would go to the District Council's own Executive Board...