There had been several concerns expressed over the summer of 2012 about this relationship:
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part two....... "It mostly represents a number of businesss that councillors and ex-councillors are involved in and those where councillors and ex-councillors own where land which was permitted to be changed from agricultural land to industrial land."
The matter was discussed at a full council meeting on 25th July 2012:
On 6th September 2012, the EDBF declared that it would like to engage with the Scrutiny Cttee:
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part one....... "It was the intention to go to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee with a strong team representing the Forum and refute the allegations made."
The Scrutiny Cttee met on 27th September to consider the role of the EDBF, with a one page 'Information Paper' prepared by the Hon Secretary of the EDBF, including this conclusion:
The Forum is currently chaired by Councillor Graham Brown, with Mr Roy Stuart, a private business man, as Vice Chairman. They set the agenda for meetings, working closely with the Economic Development Manager. The Forum meets eight times each year, minuted by a Democratic Services Officer. The District Council directly funds the administration of the Forum at a budget of £5,250 each year, which covers aspects such as room hire and website hosting.
The Forum has a website, http://www.eastdevonbusinessforum.org.uk which contains links to those businesses and organisations that form its membership; the minutes of the Forum are published on the Council’s website and accessible from http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/east_devon_business_forum_minutes
Nigel Harrison Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Economic Development Manager 27 September 2011
The minutes of that meeting recorded the contribution of both members of the public and members of the EDBF:
East Devon Business Forum
At this point of the meeting, the Chairman took public speaking.
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.
Graham Cooper, a Sidmouth resident, voiced his concern that the EDBF favoured development over employment and asked if the Forum had directly planned to influence the local plan in relation to employment land at Sidford.
Barry Curwen, a Sidmouth resident and small business owner, informed the Committee that he felt there was not enough distance between planning issues and the Forum. As a small business owner he felt that the reputation damage to the EDBF would stop other businesses joining it. He asked for a reform and a Task and Finish Forum to find an alternative that all businesses could join.
Steven Kendall-Tory, Chairman of the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, informed the Committee that he had canvassed his Chamber members and their opinion of the Forum was not favourable. They viewed the Forum as having access and influence over planning policy. He also felt that existing Chambers of Commerce, who work with a number of organisations, are a better source of information for the Council. He also asked for a reformation with a new name and constitution, alongside better representation.
Richard Eley, a business man of Sidmouth, welcomed the Vitality of High Streets Task and Finish Forum report on the agenda, and felt that effectiveness of such Task and Finish Forums could be applied to the EDBF. He commented on the effectiveness of Mid Devon Business Forum as a better example to follow and suggested their operation as a template in reviewing the current Forum.
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).
Val Baker, of the Blackdown Hills Business Association and Associated East Devon Chambers of Commerce, spoke about her representation of those two associations on the EDBF. She explained her role in exchanging information for those small businesses who found it difficult to attend local Chamber of Commerce meetings, let alone the EDBF. She felt that the wide connections, including with Bicton and the Business Information Point, through the EDBF, were valuable for her to pass on the views of the associations she represented.
Chris Lorimer, of the Rural Business Growth Network and director of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, told the Committee of his positive experiences in attending the EDBF over the last 18 months. He gave the example of the Forum’s assistance in preparing a Rural Growth Network bid, which went on to be accepted by the LEP, resulting in some significant funding for the East Devon area. He acknowledged that local Chambers of Commerce included members who were busy running their own businesses, and felt that it helped having a single organisation such as the Forum for Chamber representatives to attend.
Greg Page-Turner of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), gave the Committee statistics relating to the 1,000 FSB members in the East Devon area. His representation on the Forum of the FSB helped to raise a number of issues that his members faced, including issues such as rural broadband. He felt that the Forum was an excellent vehicle for communicating with business.
David Henley, Principal of Bicton College, found his attendance at the EDBF to be a useful opportunity to listen to the views of businesses, especially in establishing skills gaps and industry needs. He quoted a number of useful presentations he had heard at the EDBF and how the Forum helped stimulate discussion between many organisations.
David Hinshellwood of Business Information Point saw the Forum as a communication vehicle , and felt there were direct benefits to local businesses as a result of the links made via the Forum.
Councillor Graham Troman explained to the Committee his reasons for bringing the item for debate, making some suggestions for improvements to refresh the Forum:
> Encourage wider membership, taking into account all sizes of business from small trader to larger corporations;
> Encourage meetings to be held in each town;
> Look to a new name to revitalise the image of the Forum;
> The Forum should hold an AGM at the Council Offices as a showpiece event;
> Encourage the Chairman to be an independent, not an elected Member of the Council;
> Find a clear strategic direction for the Forum;
> Consider a self-financing mechanism so the Forum could operate without funding from EDDC after a three year period.
Councillor Troman recommended that exploring these options was best met by setting up a Task and Finish Forum. This was seconded by Councillor Peter Bowden.
Councillor Graham Brown, current Chairman of the East Devon Business Forum, welcomed the proposal and gave his support to provide information to a Task and Finish Forum. He informed the Committee that it had been difficult at times in getting attendances from sectors across the District; and that he was elected as Chairman, not self-appointed.
He made clear to the Committee that the Forum never discussed individual planning applications and he refuted allegations made towards the Economic Development Manager. He told the Committee that the Atkins report had been a desk exercise, investigated by the Forum with site visits and further investigation to provide a list of viable sites that resulted in 6 hectares of employment land being identified. He encouraged the Committee and others present to attend the EDBF and see the positive work it does for the District.
Councillor Mike Allen as Chairman of the former Local Plan Panel made clear to the Committee that the EDBF had no influence over the size of employment land in the current draft local plan. He commended the work by the Forum and supported the concept of a Task and Finish Forum.
Councillor Claire Wright outlined evidence to the Committee that she had raised at Council on 25 July in support of her motion to withdraw financial, officer and administrative support from the EDBF.
Councillor Graham Godbeer, Portfolio Holder for Economy, reminded the Committee that it was crucial to continue dialogue with the business community in order to provide jobs for the District’s young people leaving fulltime education.
The Chairman reminded the Committee that a Task and Finish Forum could only make recommendations to the EDBF, as it was a separate entity from the Council.
He also suggested that a Task and Finish Forum could look at the wider remit of how the Council engages with business, including but not exclusively looking at how the East Devon Business Forum could increase membership, and suggest topics for their agendas.
1. that a Task and Finish Forum be set up to look at how the
Council engages with business, including looking at
how increased membership of the East Devon Business
Forum could be encouraged, and make suggestion of topics
for their agendas that would assist the Council in obtaining a
comprehensive view of the needs of business;
2. that the Forum consist of Councillors Graham Troman, Mike
Allen, Vivien Duval Steer, Claire Wright, Steve Gazzard and Peter Burrows.
The EDBF meeting of 11th October reviewed this session of the Scrutiny Cttee, and included contributions from invited non-members of the EDBF:
Discussion on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27 September 2012
(Minute *48 of 6 September 12 refers)
Members considered the discussion about the Business Forum at the EDDC Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27 September. The Chairman thanked all those who had attended the Committee and had spoken so eloquently. The breadth of representation at the meeting had been impressive.
It was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had decided to appoint a Task and Finish Forum to look at how the Council engaged with business, including looking at how increased membership of the Business Forum could be encouraged.
Some concern was expressed about the membership of the Forum as it was considered that some members had preconceived ideas about the Business Forum.
However, members were generally happy with the hearing that the Committee had given to the members of the Business Forum who had attended.
Chris Lorimer confirmed that he and David Henley from Bicton College still considered that the Business Forum was an important and useful organization to be involved with and would both continue to support it.
Tony Green a Sidmouth Resident felt that it was important for EDDC to have close links with business. But questioned whether the Business Forum was the right way to do this. He also expressed concerns about the transparency of the Business Forum and whether the current membership of the Business Forum risked the impartiality of the members and also put officers in a difficult position. A large percentage of the membership of the Business Forum had a close interest in planning and development. The Business Forum had in particular lobbied for the provision of greater amounts of employment land.
The Chairman, Graham Brown, welcomed the establishment of a TAFF and pointed out that the interest in the Business Forum’s activities had resulted in greater recognition from Tim Jones, the Heart of South West LEP and the Devon & Cornwall Business Council.
Members considered that the East Devon Business Forum was an excellent example of business and a local authority working together and should be used as an example for other areas.
that the Chairman and Honorary Secretary be authorised to write to EDDC and express the Business Forum’s concern if it was found that the membership of the Task and Finish Forum contained members that they considered had preconceived ideas about the Business Forum and its operation.
The Scrutiny Cttee's Business Task & Finish Forum met for the first time on 11th December 2012: