Sunday, 5 October 2014

"Claims for 'localism' are a fiction from a Tom Sharpe novel" - Growing disquiet across the West Country

Following reports about the 'inevitability' of East Devon being subsumed into Greater Exeter
Futures Forum: 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."

... it seems that other 'super-councils' are happening across the country:
Today Manchester, tomorrow “Greater Exeter” or “Devon wide”? Maybe Councillor Potter is right and there will be no district councils soon | East Devon Alliance

Meanwhile, there is 'consolidation' of services between East Devon and Exeter
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?"

... although other similar attempts elsewhere don't seem to be exactly full of promise:
Another chalk and cheese IT partnership | East Devon Alliance

An interesting observation following the defection of William Cash to UKIP puts the promises of 'localism' sharply into focus:

"The Tory-led Coalition’s claims for “localism” are a fiction from a Tom Sharpe novel...
"Perhaps, as I suspect, the Tories have wholly underestimated the extent of rural anger. What if the disgust that people feel ends up driving a stake through the heart of English country life to the point that people there can no longer support the Tories? There are 12 million rural voters and a very great many I know have had enough. And they are not switching to Labour."

William Cash: I’m fighting for what I believe in, Dad - Telegraph
NPPF caused Cash to defect to UKIP | East Devon Alliance

Today's Western Morning News highlighted the growing revolt in the West Country.

On the one hand, in East Devon, there are complaints about the 'corporate mentality' prevailing at the District Council... whilst in Cornwall, the locals are increasingly at odds with the 'emerging dictatorship' of the Unitary Council.

A real issue is the dominance of the 'cabinet' - rather than the 'committee'...

Grassroots rebellion over arrogant leadership in Devon and Cornwall

By Western Morning News | Posted: October 05, 2014

By Phil Goodwin

Westcountry councils face a growing rebellion from a grassroots movement weary at being ruled by an out-of-touch and “arrogant” leadership, the Western Morning News on Sunday reports today. Campaigns have sprung up across the region in opposition to a perceived centralisation of power which has left many voters feeling removed from the democratic process.

A revolt in Cornwall has seen parish councils form an alliance against the “emerging dictatorship” of the unitary “super council” and threaten to picket County Hall in protest.

In Mid-Devon, a petition has been launched against the cabinet-style of government, where decision-making power is confined to a handful of senior Conservative figures.

In East Devon a quasi-political pressure group has been formed to unify opposition after a series of controversial planning issues. Paul Arnott, chairman of the East Devon Alliance, said chief executives and unelected officers wield excessive influence and are answerable only to a powerful political elite.

“What we see now is a kind of corporate CEO mentality which is just not appropriate at a district council,” he added. “This not Wall Street – it is East Devon, and we are supposed to be following a localism agenda. The effect is setting a tone of unelected arrogance – we would like to see a return to the wise and kindly town clerk approach of days gone by.”

Labour’s Local Government Act of 2000 introduced modifications to the old committee system, including the cabinet and leader model, which is common throughout Devon and Cornwall. This allows the ruling party to populate the cabinet with its own members, regardless of the make-up of the council.

In Mid-Devon, where the Conservatives hold a 57per cent majority of the 42 seats, the Liberal Democrats and Independents have no representation and all of the senior power is concentrated in nine Tory councillors. The same set-up can be seen at Devon County Council, where Tories hold 61per cent of the seats but all the cabinet posts, and at East Devon District Council, where a 71per cent majority holds 100per cent of the cabinet posts.

The Campaign for Democracy in Mid-Devon hopes to collect the 3,000 signatures required to force a referendum on the style of governance.

Nick Way, a Lib Dem member at the authority, supports a return to the committee system. “I think it is more democratic, particularly for a small authority like us,” he said. “The current system is almost like a dictatorship of the majority – at the end of the day they have a majority but a change would make it easier for their back-benchers to have more of a say and influence policy.”

Harvey Siggs, a Somerset county councillor and vice chairman of South West Councils, says he understands the frustration given the cuts but disagrees with claims of a democratic deficit. “In Somerset we spend a lot of time trying not to be remote,” he added. “A good cabinet does its absolute best to be as transparent as possible and we still have to be accountable to the full council. With the pace of life and all the things that need to be dealt with, I don’t think the committee system is fit for purpose. All too often the disaffected people are around planning. There are winners and losers but mostly, the losers don’t complain.”

In Cornwall, representatives of 15 parish councils packed a hall in Chacewater last week in a bid to rally all 213 town and parish councils to join a revolt against Cornwall Council. The gathering came in response to the infamous “Chacewater Letter” which branded the unitary authority an “emerging dictatorship”. The letter, in July, criticised Cornwall Council's lack of communication, its savings plans, planning policy, arms lengths organisations and highly paid officers.

At the highly charged meeting on Tuesday, fellow parish councillors agreed and declared change at Cornwall Council must happen. More militant members called to draft in the local government ombudsman, for the formation of an alliance of parish councils and even for protests at the doors of County Hall.

Truro City councillor Armorel Carlyon, who chaired the meeting despite her own council not endorsing the criticism, told those gathered she could see the “democratically elected members being airbrushed out of the picture” by non-elected council officers.

Grassroots rebellion over arrogant leadership in Devon and Cornwall | Western Morning News
The peasants of Devon are revolting! | East Devon Alliance

To conclude, a personal analysis, together with pertinent comment, of matters in East Devon:

Clean, green and seen ... or grubby, philistine and hidden?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 3 Comments by Claire

Below is a letter published in this week’s Express & Echo by Seaton resident and regular contributor to this blog - Sandra Semple.

WHEN Paul Diviani was elected Leader of East Devon District Council he made the pledge that he and his administration would be “clean, green and seen”.

Clean? I am not sure what he meant, it might have been a promise about rubbish collection, but the scandals that have beset him – particularly that of disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown – have ensured that “clean” cannot apply to our council at this time.. He was simultaneously a builder, planning consultant, councillor in charge of drafting the Local Plan, and chairman of the dubious East Devon Business Forum (a group of developers totally funded by EDDC and with one of EDDC’s senior officers as its busy honorary secretary).

Green? We have no Local Plan (in preparation since 2007 and recently thrown out by a planning inspector for having plucked housing numbers “out of thin air”), leaving us at the mercy of rapacious developers. Our areas of outstanding beauty are under threat from these same developers and Gittisham, a small village, has been assessed as being a “sustainable” development despite protests from the county council (inadequate school places), the National Health Service and Natural England and having non-existent infrastructure nor any to be provided.

Seen? Are they having a laugh? Restrictions on public speaking, secrecy about the move of their HQ from Sidmouth to the far western edge of the district (22 miles from Seaton, five miles from Exeter city centre) that has led to the council appearing in Exeter Magistrates Court to appeal a decision by the Information Commissioner who says at least some of the secret information should be shown to us, the public, who are paying for the move which needs the council to sell their land in Sidmouth and Honiton (the latter for yet another supermarket).

The general concensus of opinion in East Devon seems to be that the democratic process has been abandoned and we are at the mercy of a group that is totally out of touch with the wishes and needs of its electors, but totally in touch with the wishes and needs of its developers.

How can we get out of this mess? By standing for election as truly independent district councillors (and not the paper independence of some who will shrug off party loyalty to get elected again this time and support that party thereafter), by voting in May 2015 for truly independent district councillors and by voting for a truly independent MP who will represent the district 100 per cent of the time and with 100 per cent of their commitment.

Sandra Semple, Seaton


1. At 06:02 pm on 30th Sep Sandra Semple wrote:

I must add that I signed my letter as “Seaton and Exeter” as I divide by time between the two places, but the “and Exeter” got missed off. It doesn’t change any of my views though!

2. At 10:56 am on 01th Oct Paul wrote:

And let us not forget the other pledge made by Paul Diviani when he was elected Leader of East Devon District Council which was “The cynical view of the last Government – decide, consult, do it all anyway – is not my approach.” Yet we have a multitude of examples where this is not the case:

1. The Knowle move has been characterised by a culture of secrecy:

a. A tribunal hearing is currently deciding whether EDDC’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that EDDC should provide information about the Knowle move under Freedom of Information Act.

b. Consultants reports provided to councillors have been censored by the council leadership.

c. EDDC’s consultation on this has really only been publicity - they have effectively ignored any and all negative responses from the public.

d. The proposed move to SkyPark and provision of outlying offices has had input from neither the public or staff.

e. Indeed, Paul Diviani stated at the last Council meeting that the costs of the move from the Knowle to SkyPark were completely unknown - yet the Council is marching on regardless, having put the Knowle on sale.

2. The ability for the public to give their input has recently been curtailed by a set of public speaking restrictions.

3. Most recently, EDDC have proposed new artwork on the sea-front at Seaton without any consultation with Seaton people or the town council.

In fact, EDDC’s recent record on consultation appears practically non-existent.

The gist of Sandra’s article and my own comments above, is that Cllr Paul Diviani cannot be believed or trusted. Looking at the wider EDDC Tory leadership is not really much different. Here are a few examples of EDDC’s economy with the truth:

1. An article in another newspaper published on a Tuesday where an EDDC spokesperson was quoted as saying that the lack of a Local Plan didn’t matter because inappropriate development could be prevented because most settlements were adjacent to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) - but it only took until the following Friday for this to be disproved when EDDC approved an application for 300 houses in Gittisham parish on the edge of not one, but two AONBs!!

2. A statement in the Council’s latest Annual Report stating “High demand for premises from small firms saw us let all our available business units” yet it fails to mention EDDC’s plans to sell off the East Devon Business Centre in Honiton as part of its funding for the move to SkyPark.

I am sure that there are lots of other examples I could write about, but the above should be enough to demonstrate that if you want to know the real situation, then you need to check for yourself the validity of whatever Cllr Paul Diviani or EDDC say.

3. At 09:36 am on 02th Oct Tony Green wrote:

A classic example of Cllr Diviani’s economy with the truth was his statement to Radio Devon in September 2012 that Nigel Harrison’s role in the East Devon Business Forum was “merely clerical”. As my detailed report “Planning in East Devon and the EDBF”, sent to all councillors in October 2012, illustrated, the Economic Development Manager played a pivotal role in the Forum. The fact that a council officer represented a lobby group of developers and landowners raised some interesting questions of conflicts of interest.

Clean, green and seen ... or grubby, philistine and hidden? - Claire Wright.

No comments: