Another local blog (Facebook – Devon United) republished this article from East Devon Watch originally blogged 3 YEARS AGO
“What a GREAT time to be an Independent candidate!
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. [Last week, Cornwall’s Lib Dems and Independents again formed a ruling coalition]
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. [Conservatives majority refused to make the change]
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. [EDA had its first county council success this month and Independents at EDDC now number 16].
“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. [Still the case in East Devon]
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. [Still the case in Mid Devon]
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. [No change]
The Campaign for Democracy in Mid-Devon hopes to collect the 3,000 signatures required to force a referendum on the style of governance. [Didn’t happen]
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.”
[Somerset’s Leader, Conservative John Osman was deposed by a Lib Dem this month but Tories still have a stranglehold on the council]
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. [unsuccessfully]
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.