Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils... part five... East Devon District Council "will imminently have no alternative whatsoever than to integrate anyway."

The notion that district councils will be no more is gathering momentum:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils... part four... IT services and "Another fat little privatisation through the back door approaching?"

Back in the late 2000s there were very strong moves afoot to abolish this tier of local government:
BBC NEWS | England | Tyne | District councils to be abolished
‘All local government should be abolished’ » The Spectator
44 district councils to be abolished - FT.com

There were attempts at the time to abolish East Devon and other Devon district councils:
boundary commission, unitary, devon ¦ this is north devon | North Devon Journal
Devon unitary plans | Appeal Court ruling | Boundary Committee | Western Morning News | West Briton

These were vigorously fought - on the grounds that there had not been enough 'consultation';

East Devon's legal team, advised by top QC Andrew Arden, says the consultation process carried out by the committee was flawed and the financial and other implications of such a fundamental change to local government in the county have not been considered thoroughly enough.

District Council lawyers were allowed to appeal - on the grounds of 'affordability' and spending 'even before any final decision has been made':

District lawyers go to the High Court

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LAWYERS for East Devon District Council go to the High Court tomorrow (December 19) - in the first stage of challenging proposals to abolish Devon's district councils and replace them with a 'super council'.

Radical proposals by the Boundary Commission call for East Devon District Council and seven other local authorities' to be scrapped, leaving just three unitary authorities; Plymouth, Torbay and one to cover the rest of Devon - but EDDC are challenging the move.

They say the plans are not legal because they do not address affordability - one of the five key criteria referred to in Exeter's failed bid for self determination last year- and their refusal to consider a 'two-tier' option.

However last week a judge ruled against a similar case against councils in Norfolk that had stark similarities and worrying overtones for East Devon.

The legal challenge could run into a six figure sum, and the judge ordered the councils to pay three-quarters of the legal costs incurred by the Boundary Committee as well as their own fees, adding to the spiralling multi-million pound bill even before any final decision has been made.

The Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, announced last week that the date when the Boundary Committee should provide her with its final recommendation was now February 13 2009 - six weeks later than previously scheduled.

A spokesman for the district council said: "The outcome of the Council's application for a Judicial Review into proposals for a Unitary Devon should be announced after the Christmas holiday." She is expected make her decision on the future of local government in Devon towards the end of March 2009.

District lawyers go to the High Court - News - Exmouth Journal

Interestingly, the final judgement agreed that there had not been enough 'consultation' - and that the proposals for a unitary authority could increase 'remoteness':

In a ruling handed down today (Thursday 8 January), Mr Justice Cranston:
Found the Boundary Committee had 'misdirected itself' at the very start of the review process
- Felt it did not consult properly on alternatives to its single unitary proposal
- Believed it could also have done better when consulting on affordability
- Agreed that EDDC concerns about democratic remoteness were valid
- Advised that accountants must spend more time on the overall financial impact of any change
- Accepted that this might mean a further period of consultation was necessary
- But the judge also stated that EDDC's challenge was "premature" - suggesting that the Council should have waited longer before challenging the Boundary Committee's actions.

Judgement’s mixed messages’ on Unitary Devon proposal- EDDC - News - Sidmouth Herald

In the end, the judgement meant that the whole project was 'extended indefinitely' - and then the 2010 elections intervened, putting a stop to these proposals:
EDDC leader demands Government put stop to Devon's unitary proposals - News - Sidmouth Herald
Devon unitary status advice delayed - News - Sidmouth Herald

There was indeed substantial disquiet from the public about these proposals:
Residents say no to unitary status - News - Sidmouth Herald

Although the Chambers of Commerce were very much in favour of abolition:
County Council welcomes East Devon businesses' support for Unitary Devon Council - News - Sidmouth Herald

A letter was sent to the press from the Vision Group:

Unitary proposal - democracy is paramount

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Madam - The Vision Group for Sidmouth has been seeking clarity on the specific powers that are to be transferred to the proposed unitary authority and the specific powers to be devolved to the proposed town boards. Our submission to the Boundary Commission is given below.

In the absence of such information, we cannot endorse any of the proposals on offer but can only insist that, whatever the outcome of the reorganisation, it must ensure the empowerment of local democracy.

Over the past few months the Vision Group for Sidmouth has researched the issues carefully and attended all consultative meetings. We have consulted all our 100+ members and discussed the issue in detail at three meetings attended by up to 40 participants.

We understand that the status quo is not an option. However, we recognise that the abolition of the EDDC as a significant local employer could have a damaging effect on the local economy.

As a non-party-political organisation, the Vision Group will continue to work with whatever government authorities are to be established, in order to maintain the unique character of our town and to promote its sustainable development.

Robert Crick

Chairman, Vision Group for Sidmouth.

Unitary proposal - democracy is paramount - Letters - Sidmouth Herald

And interestingly, the District Council was very keen for these voices to be heard:
Unitary Devon- EDDC wants residents to have a say - News - Sidmouth Herald

Then, in 2012, the proposal surfaced again:
No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth - Lord Heseltine review - Publications - GOV.UK

The effect was felt across the country:
Poll: New report by Michael Heseltine re-ignites debate over possible home rule for Norfolk and Suffolk - Politics - Eastern Daily Press - Mobile

The Town Council in Sidmouth responded accordingly:

Call to put council move on hold

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: November 22, 2012

THE chairman of Sidmouth Town Council has proposed that East Devon District Council should consider putting its relocation plans on hold.

Cllr Stuart Hughes put forward a motion which states: "In light of the recommendations to abolish district authorities in Michael Heseltine's No Stone Unturned report, this council should put on hold its relocation plans until Government has ruled on the recommendations."

The district council's proposals to relocate from Sidmouth to Honiton have proved very controversial with Sidmouth residents and those throughout the wider district.

The council have said that it is the intention for the move to be cost neutral. It plans to redevelop its current headquarters at Knowle, Sidmouth.

Call to put council move on hold | Exeter Express and Echo

And at the District Council in East Devon, questions were raised about the viability of relocating from Knowle:

New move to shelve Knowle sale plan

Dave Beasley Friday, November 23, 2012

Two district councillors are urging that proposals to move the authority’s HQ are put on hold because of proposals that could lead to the abolition of the district council.

Former Tory deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has penned a 230-page report suggesting how to boost Britain’s flatlining economy. In ‘No Stone Unturned’ Lord Heseltine says that district council’s should be abolished in favour of unitary authorities.

The idea comes just two years after East Devon District Council (EDDC) spent £400,000 on a legal challenge against similar proposals by the then Labour government.

Councillors Stuart Hughes and Graham Troman feel proposals for EDDC to leave Sidmouth for Honiton - and subsequently sell Knowle for redevelopment - should be suspended until Whitehall has ruled on his recommendations.

Cllr Hughes this week tabled a notice of motion to that affect, seconded by Cllr Troman. Both want the request to be given consideration at EDDC’s next full meeting on December 5.

“We’ll be flying in the face of the council tax payers of East Devon to continue this (relocation) process,” said Mr Hughes. “Why spend all this money in times of austerity, ploughing ahead with something that might not happen, when you could find district authorities will be abolished?”

Mr Troman added: “At the next full council meeting I will second a motion to put on hold the proposed new council offices until the future is more certain. If, in the future, the land at Knowle is put on the open market, we should look at a community right to buy option.”

Lord Heseltine’s 230-page government-commissioned report outlines 89 recommendations to kick start the economy by reforming local government, business, education and Whitehall. Among them is to put more power into councillors’ hands. He says the system of English local government is “overly complex, inefficient” and “not suited to the demands of the 21st century”.

He argues the multi-tiered nature of the English system makes it difficult to exploit economic opportunities and calls for the Government to combine all two-tier authorities so that all services, currently divided between county and district councils, would be provided by one. He says unitary authorities run at considerably lower cost and provide “greater clarity and accountability about where responsibilities lie”.

New move to shelve Knowle sale plan - News - Exmouth Journal

... which brings us back to square one and the latest debate on the future of local government:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils...

Now, in an 'extraordinary revelation', Cllr Ken Potter has told Newton Poppleford parish council that he has been told by central government that district councils will not be around for much longer:


September 30th 2014

An extraordinary revelation by Cllr Ken Potter at last night’s Newton Pop parish council meeting.

He said in his report that he attended a recent meeting of the Local Government Association to discuss the future of post offices.

The meeting was addressed by a minister who predicted that within ten years “there would not be a single free-standing district council left”.

Several astonished members of the public tried to ask why, then, was EDDC planning to spend many millions building a new HQ, but the Chair moved on to discuss Himalayan balsam in the Otter.

4 thoughts on ““No District Councils in Ten Year’s Time””

Paul says:
September 30, 2014 at 10:59 am

Q: “Why, then, is EDDC planning to spend many millions building a new HQ?”

Please add your own answers here, with a small prize for the most humorous, ironic or potentially truthful one.

Rory Jones says:
September 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm

In answer to Paul,

A: Because they are too ashamed to admit that between 2007-2011 they spent a king’s ransom of our money fighting being integrated into a Unitary Devon – purely to protect their own political skins and the jobs of the senior officers.

And now they’ve realised that with the economic downturn (which was ALREADY HAPPENING back then) they will imminently have no alternative whatsoever than to integrate anyway. Only now they are doing it in an underhand way, without a mandate, and defying the Information Commissioner.

Graham says:
September 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Is EDDC facing dissolution?
Strange how senior officers job share with South Somerset while it’s IT service is linked up with Teignbridge and Exeter.
Will there be anything left in the district after the council builds a new HQ in Greater Exeter?
As the district council is so evidently failing surely the simplest way to save public expenditure is to remove the triple layer of local bureaucracy by dissolving EDDC.
In which case why is the ED ratepayer expected to underwrite the vanity HQ project when EDDC has lost the trust of the residents and is vanishing before our very eyes?
What are we paying for – surely a case of the king’s new clothes if ever there was one.
Graham Sidmouth

Diana N says:
September 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Perhaps it’s on their “One Hundred things to do before you die list” After all, there is no accounting for other peoples’ quirky aspirations!

“No District Councils in Ten Year’s Time” | East Devon Alliance

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