Saturday, 31 January 2015

The 'in-depth report' on the East Devon Business Forum will not happen

A week ago, the District Council's Scrutiny Cttee met to look at what to do about its oft-postponed task force (or TAFF) looking at the East Devon Business Forum:
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Forum task force to be considered at Scrutiny Cttee: Thursday 22nd January

However, this TAFF has never been referred specifically to as the 'EDBF TAFF'
- but as simply the 'Business TAFF'
Task and finish forums - East Devon District Council

This is despite the repeated references to the TAFF's remit, for example:

Notes of a Meeting of the Business Task and Finish Forum held at Knowle, Sidmouth on 11 December 2012 

RESOLVED: The scoping report be agreed as below: 

Broad topic area: To produce an in-depth report on the East Devon Business Forum to include all business engagement and its relationship with the Council.


Furthermore, it is clear that one of the main reasons for setting up the TAFF was to look at the issue of employment land: 

Minutes of a Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held at Knowle, Sidmouth on 28 March 2013

*67 Referral from Business Task and Finish Forum

The proposal to widen the remit of the Business Task and Finish Forum... 

RESOLVED that the remit of the Business Task and Finish Forum include employment land planning issues (but not individual planning allocations) without delaying the development of the Local Plan or impinging on the Police Investigation currently being carried out.


This resolution followed on from - and was itself then followed by - countless wranglings over the 'scoping' of the TAFF:
Whitewash? Hogwash? You decide. EDDC’s Chief Executive gives his view? legal opinion? opinion? who knows! | Sidmouth Independent News
My TAFF, your TAFF | Sidmouth Independent News
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo

... claims about undue influence from the EDBF:
The influence of the East Devon Business Forum on the Local Plan | Sidmouth Independent News
"EDDC must distance itself from East Devon Business Forum" - Claire Wright
... and, indeed, questions about what constitutes 'planning':
“The A3052 corridor” – When is discussing planning applications NOT discussing planning applications? | Sidmouth Independent News

The 'in-depth report' on the EDDC’s relationship with the East Devon Business Forum has never been forthcoming:
Chairman makes decision to postpone next Business TAFF meeting | Save Our Sidmouth

The Scrutiny Cttee voted last week to severely limit the scope of the 'Business TAFF'.

This is from the latest Herald:

Home - Sidmouth Herald

This report is from the East Devon Watch blog:

The second burning issue was the suggested reform of Task and Finish Forums.

23rd January 2015

A proposal from a Democratic Services Officer (advised by CEO Mark Williams?) that the scope of TAFFs should be proposed by officers, seemed pretty well acceptable to the obedient majority – though it is going to be thought about first by one of Cllr Bloxham’s Think Tanks.

The controversial Business TAFF will continue with the same members as before, but without too much embarrassing looking back at relations with the East Devon Business Forum whose demise seemed to be lamented by Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. He assured everyone that the TAFF will now have perfectly respectable relations with the new East Devon Business Group which genuinely represented the District’s entrepreneurs.It was time to turn the page, he said, and stop attacking the perceived influence of the EDBF on crucial planning decisions. The representative from Axminster concluded,fittingly, that he was not “trying to sweep anything under the carpet!”

5 thoughts on ““Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse”

Sandra Semple says:
23 Jan 2015 at 2:21pm

Who belongs to the new business group? Which companies do they represent and what fingers do they have in other East Devon pies? True, Councillor Moulding is not trying to sweep the muck from under the carpet: he’s removing the muck AND the carpet and saying: look, nothing there but a nice clean floor!

I’m not fooled that easily but it seems most Tory councillors want to pretend the muck was never there. Just one question: if all is squeaky clean why exactly was ex-Councillor Brown expelled from his party?

Tim says:
23 Jan 2015 at 4:30pm

Will we get the usual suspects flying flags of convenience, i.e. allegedly representing business interests that perhaps don’t appear on their personal declorations and just to get over the fact that they are councillors.
When I first came across the East Devon Busines Forum I was struck by who wasn’t on it- then I realised that they may be important businesses but they lacked land or an interest in developing same.

Mark Hawkins says:
24 Jan 2015 at 8:44am

The relationship between the senior officers and the group or it’s hierarchy also gives grave concern. As an example, any who saw Nigel Harrison’s performance at the EDBF TAFF would know that the Graham Brown investigation, and any other into EDBF issues, would not be considered adequate or thorough without a forensic investigation into Mr Harrison’s emails, phone accounts and diary. Then we have the reverential way in which Mr Williams is treated, despite a committee of MPs reacting as normal people would to his mischief. The same can be said for the wretched Mr Cohen, whose arrogance frustrated the Information Commisioner.

“Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse | East Devon Watch

And this report is from the blog of independent District Councillor Claire Wright, who is also a member of the TAFF:

EDDC to “learn lessons” from conflicted relationship but subject of planning is still off limits

Friday, 23 January 2015 2 Comments by Claire

The Business task group, which was suspended in 2013 by EDDC’s monitoring officer, will be resurrected and will “learn lessons” from the former relationship between East Devon District Council and East Devon Business Forum (EDBF).

But it still won’t be allowed to examine planning - the issue within the relationship that caused such controversy in 2012 and is still continuing to this day.

East Devon Business Forum (now disbanded), with its large numbers of developer-landowner members, had a huge influence of the amount of employment land allocated in EDDC’s local plan. And many of the members personally benefited from the relaxation in planning policy leading up to the local plan being prepared – a move driven by the forum.

Members of the forum had further industrial land allocations in the draft local plan itself.

Two independent reports commissioned at great expense by EDDC recommending vastly lower levels of industrial land were dismissed by EDBF and also by EDDC, which endorsed EDBF’s approach.

As a direct result of EDBF’s influence a very controversial and opposed five hectares of industrial land has been allocated in EDDC’s draft local plan.

EDDC’s economic development officer (now left EDDC) was also the honorary secretary of the business forum and enthusiastically backed its members’ planning applications – many of which were contrary to EDDC’s planning policy.

The influence and relationship between EDDC and EDBF raised concerns of serious conflicts of interest.

EDBF’s chairman was former councillor and developer/planning consultant, Graham Brown, who was the subject of a Daily Telegraph sting in March 2013.

Mr Brown was also the subject of a police investigation lasting almost two years, which has now been dropped.

EDBF disbanded shortly after the police investigation started.

So …. there is still a high degree of interest - in Sidmouth in particular - of EDBF and EDDC’s relationship and how it came to pass that a group of developer-landowners held such sway over officers and councillors.

EDDC has repeatedly refused to allow any examination of this relationship, citing the local plan being in draft as the reason - and in 2013 EDDC’s monitoring officer suspended the task and finish forum for those reasons.

It is for pushing a cold hard look at this relationship - which the council refused to do - that I am deemed to have “hijacked” and “undermined” the scrutiny function.

I argued at last night’s scrutiny meeting that lessons could not be learned if the task group could not look at what happened.

However, no other councillor apart from Roger Giles seemed to share my view.

The Business task group will now in the main consider the council’s relationship with business in general.

Not permitted for discussion at the Business task group meetings are: The local plan, individual planning applications, planning policy and individual contracts between the council and contractors or suppliers.


1. At 10:44 pm on 23th Jan Conrad Black wrote:

Our congratulations to the paid staff at the EDDC for achieving such domination over their political lords and masters. It is now impossible to criticise them - even when they choose to insult the electorate in public and in the press (a Chief Executive should be a civil servant?). They now decide what the objectives are, what you may think, and prevent you from any way of investigating what is actually happening. George Orwell may have been right after all? (Try animal farm.)

No doubt senior officers also cannot be held to account, and certainly not dismissed, by anyone. A privilege given to MPs, and we might question why they should be so blessed either.

I wonder if they understand the irony that having sown the wind they risk reaping the whirlwind?

Exactly what body is ennobled to review the disastrous farrago of the Local Plan, and get it on the road (as it were) and demand to know why earlier planning policy is not being followed and exactly what happened at that time that caused EDDC to ignore its own policy?

2. At 09:48 am on 24th Jan Sandra Semple wrote:

“Individual contracts between council and suppliers” - now that’s a new one that has never, to my knowledge, been mentioned before and has suddenly crept in, rather like the employment land at Sidford did. Obviously something someone doesn’t want scrutinising there ...........

EDDC to “learn lessons” from conflicted relationship but subject of planning is still off limits - Claire Wright

Further reports question the role of officers in determining the scope of what Councillors may or may not scrutinise:
EDDC officer: “Personal agendas” on task groups have damaged scrutiny function - Claire Wright
Changes proposed for East Devon Council task forums to avoid risk of “hijack” by councillors - Claire Wright

When it comes to 'transparency' of decision-making, it appears that all is... not what it seems:
Task and Finish Forum Budget Scrutiny – suspicion about inadequate resources and Local Plan | East Devon Watch
Majority of listed meetings are secret | East Devon Watch

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