Saturday, 21 February 2015

The East Devon Business Forum TAFF >>>>>>>>>>> "The original scope was no longer relevant and there was a need to move on." >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Or: "Bringing the council into disrepute"

The Task Force, or TAFF, which was set up to look the East Devon Business Forum, was considered at last month's Scrutiny Cttee:
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Forum task force to be considered at Scrutiny Cttee: Thursday 22nd January

The EDBF (or 'Business') TAFF has now had its remit 'reformulated':
Futures Forum: The 'in-depth report' on the East Devon Business Forum will not happen

There was considerable dispute over how the meeting of 22nd January was recorded. 

The East Devon Watch blog reported on the inaccurate minutes:
Serious misrepresentation in Overview and Scrutiny Committee draft minutes. EDA requests amendment at today’s meeting (22/01/2015) | East Devon Watch
OSC draft minutes may be ‘unacceptable in law’, as they stand. | East Devon Watch
Allegedly misleading draft minutes of OSC amended…in part. | East Devon Watch
OSC draft minutes: “remaining inaccuracies”, and “a little more for the record” from EDA. | East Devon Watch

These were subsequently amended:

Minutes of a Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held at Knowle, Sidmouth on 22 January 2015

*59 Minutes
The minutes of the 13 November 2014 meeting were agreed subject to the following amendments:
Minute 47 (page 4 of agenda papers) second paragraph be replaced with:

Mr Paul Arnott spoke from the floor putting some critical questions regarding the work both of the police and the Council in the investigation of a former councillor. 
He claimed that "the chief executive of the compromised authority did what he could to meddle with the internal investigations" and also asked the police and crime commissioner, Mr Hogg, if he found it coincidental that something like six hundred days after a report was made from this authority to the police about the conduct of a former councillor, five hundred and ninety-nine days later, and one day before he appeared before the committee, the police finally announced that there would be no further action. 
Mr Hogg did not comment at the time but later, in response to questions to Mr Hogg and senior police officers, it was made clear by Superintendent Perkin that the police investigation had been long and complex and that they did not think the senior investigating officer would have been aware of this meeting.

Last year, Paul Arnott, chair of the East Devon Alliance, had expressed grave concerns about this police investigation into the 'conduct of a former councillor':


12th November 2014

‘East Devon Alliance (EDA) notes the statement issued today by Devon and Cornwall Police that they have decided not to continue their inquiry into the activities of former councillor Graham Brown because of insufficient evidence.

Following the “Councillors for Hire” report in the Daily Telegraph of March 11 2013, EDA was contacted by several people who wished for information to be given to the police. EDA did this on a number of occasions between May 2013 and September 2014.

EDA has therefore followed the conduct of the inquiry with interest. It has been concerned by initial delays caused by an erroneous referral to Action Fraud following the Daily Telegraph revelations, slow progress once the inquiry was underway, and the apparently limited resources devoted to the investigation.

The Alliance is now considering what action it might take to express these concerns in the appropriate forum.

Whatever the result of the police inquiry, EDA agrees with the statement of the EDDC Majority Whip Phil Twiss, in a letter to councillors on 17 March 2013, that he was “hugely disappointed that the inappropriate actions of a former member of the EDDC Conservative group has brought (the council) into disrepute”.

Urgent questions remain concerning the role played by Mr Brown in determining planning policy at EDDC and shaping the failed Local Plan. It is vitally important that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee resumes its much-delayed investigation into the Council’s relations with business, particularly with the East Devon Business Forum of which Mr Brown was chairman.

However, we are very concerned that EDDC’s Chief Executive, Mark Williams, has responded to today’s announcement by writing to all councillors demanding the exclusion of a named councillor from this vital inquiry, and that its scope be limited. ‘

Notes for editors:
1.The Daily Telegraph article “Councillors for Hire” of 11 March 2013:
Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice - Telegraph
and follow-up article of 11th November 2013 
Telegraph undercover planning investigation: a summary - Telegraph
Mark Williams on “unfortunate circumstances” arising from G. Brown case | East Devon Watch

Futures Forum: Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council's CEO's pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF

The agenda of next week's Scrutiny Cttee will consider a report from a 'think tank' looking at the role of TAFFs, or Task Forces appointed to look at specific issues - such as the role of the East Devon Business Forum:

Joint think tank notes (PHCB & PHCS) 28 January 2015 by DM

Amendments to Task and Finish Forums

Recommendations were made to Overview and Scrutiny on 22 January on amendments to where the scope is agreed for a TaFF, and the number of councillors who should be on a TaFF.

Discussion reached an agreement on “normally seven” for the number on a Forum, with key aspects being to secure councillors with appropriate skills and/or enthusiasm for the task.

Agreeing a drafted scope at committee level was also felt helpful in order to set the task clear parameters for immediate start by the Forum, as well as help achieve a greater ownership by the committee on what they wanted the Forum to achieve.

Possible recommendations from this meeting:
 Scoping for Task and Finish Forums be undertaken by the committee prior to the start of the Forum;
 A Task and Finish Forum to normally consist of seven councillors

Agenda for Overview & Scrutiny CommitteeThursday, 26 February 2015 

Of course, with regard to the EDBF TAFF, the Scrutiny Cttee had achieved very clear 'ownership' of the scope of the TAFF:

4 Scoping report
Broadly, the issues for discussion were how EDDC engaged with business and the role historically and currently played by the EDBF in facilitating that link.
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.

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

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.

Delay on business row group | Exeter Express and Echo

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. 

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCILMinutes of a Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee - 28 March 2013 

It seems that, despite these 'resolutions', that the EDBF/Business TAFF will have its scope redefined. The question is: How did this happen?

Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED!
By councillor | Posted: December 13, 2012
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.

Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part nine ....... "The local development framework would enable businesses to progress land allocation. It was agreed that the strategy should reflect the Forum’s views." 

The minutes of last month's Scrutiny Cttee included a report from an officer on the TAFF structure in general - and on the EDBF TAFF in particular:

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL Minutes of a Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee - 22 January 2015 

Task and Finish Forum improvements

The Democratic Services officer presented two elements aimed at improving the efficiency of task and finish forums set up by the Committee. These were firstly to agree the scope of a forum’s work at the O&S committee, and secondly to set a membership level of a forum at seven to nine members.

During debate, the following points were made:

 A draft scope would be required to be presented to the committee. This activity had already been undertaken by the Democratic Services Officer for previous forums and the activity would continue, but be presented to the O&S committee for agreement rather than for agreement by the forum.

 In response to a question and comments, the Democratic Services officer explained that her assessment of the business TaFF (as requested by the committee) and tree TaFF had lead her to the conclusion that the forums were being used to pursue topics that did not match the intended purpose of the forum. She reminded the committee of the work over the past years in introducing scoping to both the committee and forums. Both needed to be clear on where the focus should be, and what constitutionally can be reviewed by the forum. 
In response, the councillor seeking clarification refuted any suggestion of a personal agenda being pursued. In her view, the running of the business TaFF was in fact bringing the council into disrepute, and she was undertaking an issue of public concern that needed highlighting. 
Two other councillors commented that those involved in any forum should have an open mind and follow the scope; and that the report was accurate with no specific members being identified in the report.

 It was felt that all members should declare relevant interests before putting
themselves forward for taking part in a forum.

 Previous TaFFs had worked well and produced valid results later adopted by the council.

 The key to a successful TaFF was have enthusiastic and diligent members, and that to restrict the numbers to between 7 and 9 members may be too prescriptive.

 It was agreed that any changes to the way forums are set up and their membership could be discussed at the previously agreed think tank on scrutiny rather than being finally decided at the meeting.

The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Business welcomed any referral to his scheduled think tank on 28 January, adding that the scoping arrangements of other authorities could be examined. The results of that think tank can come back to the committee for debate in due course.

That the issue of agreeing a scope for a forum at committee, and the minimum number of councillors to be on a forum, be discussed further at a think tank of the Portfolio Holder – Corporate Business alongside other scrutiny issues, before being brought back to the committee for final agreement.

*64 Business Task and Finish Forum

The committee received a report on the forum, agreeing that the forum should reconvene but with a new scope. 
A revised scope had been drawn up based on changes in recent months, including the newly formed East Devon Business Support Group. 

The Chairman had also had input into the revised scope prior to it being presented to the committee for debate, to which he added verbally that he had taken an board an amendment to item under the specific areas to explore which now read as:

“5. how best, either via this structure (EDBS Group), or in other ways businesses in the district may best pursue their concerns with Council including putting points about planning issues relevant to any Local Plan; and how best the Council should keep local business informed of administrative and legislative changes that may affect their well-being.”

The Chairman reminded the committee that any direct comments on the emerging Local Plan constitutionally sit with the Development Management Committee and full Council, not with the forum.

The committee debated the role of the forum, including:
 The need to consult with the full range of businesses across the district, including the self employed;
 The newly formed East Devon Business Support Group and the topics of discussion already covered by that group;
The fact that the original scope was no longer relevant and there was a need to move on.

 Councillor Troman would continue as chairman of the forum.
1. that the Business Task and Finish Forum reconvene with the existing membership of Mile Allen, Vivien Duval Steer, Claire Wright, Steve Gazzard, Peter Burrows, Maddy Chapman and Alan Dent, under the chairmanship of Councillor Graham Troman;
2. that the revised scope as set out in the report, incorporating the amendment advised by the Chairman, be agreed.

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL Minutes of a Meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee - 22 January 2015 .

Of course, when we talk about the 'need to move on' it generally means we'd rather forget something embarrassing from the past...

"It does not mean forgetting the pain of the past but it does mean recognising it's time to move on."
25 March, after his historic talks with Libya's Colonel Gaddafi

BBC NEWS | Politics | Blair: In his own words

Still, at least some uncomfortable truths continue to leak out from the Chilcot whitewash (no doubt greatly to the regret of those managing the process that is intended to allow our managerial elite to move on from the whole embarassing Iraq business with the least possible unpleasantness)...

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