‘Changing of the guard’ in East Devon as new adminstration take control

New Leader Paul Arnott adds more detail to the direction he will set for the new administration and outlines the roles of his Cabinet members. In particular the new Cabinet will now host three critical new roles to enable the council to tackle both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis head-on.

Unfortunately the video streaming of the reconvened meeting held today is not available on YouTube. Followers will understand why.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

A ‘changing of the guard’ has occurred in East Devon with a new progressive leadership having taken control of the council.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance, was elected as the new leader of the council on Friday morning. It followed the resignation of the previous leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, last week.

He was elected by 32 votes to 20 over Conservative rival Cllr Andrew Moulding, with eight abstentions.

The meeting on Friday morning was reconvened after Thursday evening’s meeting was adjourned after the live stream crashed after Cllr Tom Wright was heard swearing. He apologised at the start of Friday’s meeting.

Cllr Arnott told the meeting that the new administration marks the start of a new approach to collaborative working and will bring stability and direction for the benefit of all its residents.

The Democratic Alliance group, who are the largest group on the council, formed a coalition with the seven members of the Independent Progressive group to form the administration with a total of 31 of the 60-strong council. The Democratic Alliance group is made up of councillors from the Independent East Devon Alliance, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Green Party and some independents.

Cllr Eileen Wragg, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a councillor, will be the deputy leader.

Cllr Arnott said that the new administration recognised the need for continuity during such uncertain times and three of the portfolio holders for the previous Cabinet have been reappointed.

He said that the hard work they have undertaken for the last 12 months and the knowledge and experience they bring with them will help the council smoothly transition into this fresh new approach.

He said: “It is essential that at this of all times East Devon has a stable majority leadership. It must also have a keen eye on the district’s future wellbeing when this troubling period comes to an eventual end. The electorate spoke hoping for a reformed and improved council last year and our aim is to deliver that with hard work and with pride in the wonderful place we are all fortunate to call home.

“Countrywide, the last decade or more has seen local councils put under increasing pressure financially, East Devon is no exception. The current pandemic further compounds this.

“East Devon District Council’s new administration is committed to a thorough assessment of the council’s current position in all areas, including finance, and is determined to lobby both central government and the districts MP’s to help us out of our financial shortfall so that we can continue to provide the best service to our residents, district-wide.

“We are looking forward to working with the staff as this must have been a really difficult last 18 months for them, but if you have a majority administration then gives them some secure sense of a direction for the council.

“The previous administration walked into the same practices that the conservatives had been doing for years and the business as usual approach, if I’m honest, was intellectually idle and the past [path] of least resistance, and everything I have learnt in this life is that if you take the easy option then it is often the wrong one.

“But this is the changing of the guard. It is like they tried to stop us and like going in front of the guards at Buckingham Palace and saying ‘you shall not pass’ and let a new legitimate administration come in, but we have got there in the end.”

Cllr Arnott added: “Life and economy at the moment are mothballed but it does look like getting back to some semblance of normality in the next few weeks and when that happens we can make judgements about what we can do across the district. But the first job is to lobby for funding to cover the financial gap that the district council will now suffer – will keep the pressure on and I actually believe that they will probably do that.

“The most important thing is not to panic. We have reserves saved up for a rainy day and if this is not a rainy day then I don’t know what is, and would be better to do that than anything that affects our day to day services

“We have to address how we respond to the coronavirus and the effect on the council’s finances. We are not certain yet how bad it is. The council gets a lot of revenue through car parks and when we were not charging it was creating a black hole, but now people using them and we are charging again. It will take a while to see the loss over the period of time and with a bit of luck may not be in as disastrous as a position as first thought.”

He announced that the new Cabinet will now host three critical new roles to enable the council to tackle both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis head-on.

Cllr Jess Bailey is the new Cabinet portfolio holder for Corporate Services and Covid-19 Response & Recovery to ensure a consistent and pro-active approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Cllr Arnott said: “At this time of crisis, it is vital that operations across the council continue to be focussed and understood both during and after, so that as the period for recovery begins, the council emerges in the best shape and able to continue to serve East Devon effectively.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson has been appointed as the new Climate Action portfolio holder securing the council’s commitment to Climate Change, and Cllr Arnott said she will ensure that every action and strategy pursued by the council is compliant with its zero-emissions commitment and that climate is considered in the formation of all policy. Her assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Denise Bickley.

On climate change, Cllr Arnott added: “As we emerge from what has been a national crisis, you need to plan to come out with some positive outcomes and across Devon there is a will that the climate action agenda that was so strong last year remains so.

“That needs to borne in mind with the kind of homes we are building, the transport policies, the way in which we procure things, the way we preserve our old ecology, our AONBs and the relationship with the potential National Park with Dorset. All of these things are what people have had time to think about over recent months so we need to harness that enthusiasm to address the climate emergency, so there are some opportunities ahead.”

The new Democracy and Transparency portfolio holder is Cllr Paul Millar who will carry out the new administration’s commitment to overseeing the governance of the council to ensure that all 60 councillors are able to contribute fully. A full review of the constitution, member engagement, and external communications will be undertaken. Cllr Sarah Jackson will be the assistant portfolio holder.

Cllr Millar said: “I am delighted to return to the Cabinet at East Devon under this exciting new administration. In my post, the challenge is to improve the Council’s reputation with the public and improve the way we do business so the bad and thuggish behaviour evident last night is never repeated.

“On issues like the Exmouth seafront regeneration project, the principles of democracy and transparency have not been followed by East Devon District Council. There’ll be no more fait accomplis masquerading as open public consultations. The Democratic Alliance will be collaborative and true to its name and over the next three years, our strong and united team will empower the communities we represent and ensure voices that have been silent for far too long are finally heard.”

The Economy and Assets portfolio is Cllr Paul Hayward and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Geoff Pratt. Cllr Geoff Jung is the holder for the newly-named Coast, Country and Environment portfolio and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Eleanor Rylance.

The Finance portfolio holder is Cllr Jack Rowland and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr John Loudoun. The Strategic Development portfolio is Cllr Dan Ledger and Sustainable Homes & Communities portfolio holder is Cllr Megan Armstrong.

A further meeting of the council will be held on June 8 to elect a chairman and vice-chairman of the council, while in the week commencing June 15, another meeting will be held to deal with the appointments of committee chairs and to other outside bodies.

Cllr Arnott added that once that meeting has taken place, he aims to have a packed schedule of meetings for the rest of June and July so the council can get to work.

Councillor apologises for swearing on live stream of meeting on YouTube

Cllr Tom Wright, the Conservative councillor who represents the Budleigh and Raleigh ward on East Devon District Council, apologised unreservedly for this language when the virtual meeting resumed on Friday morning.

(Cllr Tom Wright also was the councillor who proposed Cllr Andrew Moulding as Leader. Had he done his sums he wouldn’t have been in the least surprised at the outcome – Owl)

Councillors were electing a new leader of the council at Thursday night’s meeting and 57 of the 60 votes had been cast when the live Youtube stream of the proceedings abruptly ended.

The reconvened meeting on Friday morning saw Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance, elected as the new council leader by 32 votes to 20, with eight abstentions.

But before the last three votes were counted, Cllr Wright began the meeting with an apology for his actions.

He said: “I apologise for bringing everybody here this morning and I wish to apologise unreservedly for my actions last evening. I must point out I was not directing abuse to any other councillor.

“I was expressing my personal disappointment as the result was unfolding and my microphone was on as I was semi-called to put my vote.

“I apologise to all councillors, officers and members of the public who were following the events on YouTube and for the harm it did to the democratic process and reputation of the council, not least the public’s view of the council and its councillors.

“I am also very aware of the extra work and strain this will have put on East Devon District Council staff and I apologise separately to them. I can say no more, I am truly sorry.”

Cllr Stuart Hughes, chairman of the council, added: “I would also like to sincerely apologise on behalf of East Devon District Council to members of the public who were watching yesterday and experienced this unfortunate incident.”

He began the meeting by adding: “I strongly reiterate the point for councillors to make sure all microphones are muted when you’re not speaking to avoid any background noise levels and ensure that you use appropriate language.”

East Devon elects new leader at second attempt after chaotic meeting

The new leader of East Devon District Council has been elected – at the second attempt – after the first livestreamed meeting ended abruptly shortly after a councillor was recorded swearing into his microphone.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance, has now been voted into the top role on Friday morning, following the resignation last week of the previous leader of the council, Cllr Ben Ingham.

This article contains the list of the new cabinet.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 


The extraordinary full council meeting began on Thursday night but was adjourned midway through the initial vote to elect a new leader when the live stream of the meeting was removed from YouTube for violating its terms of service. This happened moments after one councillor was heard swearing in the background having not muted their microphone.

A message appeared on the screen saying that the video had been removed for violating Youtube’s terms of service. It happened moments after one of the councillors – believed to have been Cllr Tom Wright – was caught swearing on his microphone while the vote to elect the new leader was ongoing. It is unknown as to whether that was the reason why the video was removed from Youtube.

At the second attempt Cllr Arnott was voted in by 32 votes to 20, with eight abstentions, over Cllr Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservative Group, who had also been nominated as a potential leadership candidate. The previous leader of the council, Cllr Ingham, had voted for Cllr Moulding.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council

The 60-strong council is now being run by an administration of 31 councillors from both the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressive Group.

The Democratic Alliance consists of the East Devon Alliance, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and three Independents, while the IPG consists of seven Independent councillors.

Speaking on Friday morning at the extraordinary council meeting, Cllr Arnott, the East Devon Alliance leader, said: “In May 2019 the East Devon electorate sent a clear message to the council that after nearly five decades of Conservative dominance they wanted change. People voted to reduce what had been 45 Conservative councillors five years earlier to just 19.

“Despite the huge defeat, the new leadership went for a business as usual approach, and last month, this approach collapsed after the Conservatives pushed for a vote of no confidence in the leader and his own group split down the middle.

“The Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressive Group now have a majority on the council and it gives it the stability it has lacked since Cllr Ingham attempted a council of no overall control.

“It is essential that at this of all times, East Devon has a stable majority leadership. It must also have a keen eye on the district’s future wellbeing when this troubling period comes to an end. The electorate spoke and hoped for a reformed and improved council last year and our aim is to deliver that now with hard work and pride in the wonderful place that we are fortunate to call home.

“We wish to work with everyone for the benefit of East Devon, but if your interest is working friends and allies outside the council then I’m afraid that your time is up.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance (Image free to use by all LDRS partners)

Cllr Arnott, in appointing his cabinet team, announced that three new roles would be created, with the corporate resources portfolio also looking at the recovery from COVID-19, a new climate change portfolio and a democracy and transparency portfolio created. Five assistant cabinet roles will also be created.

Nominating him, Cllr Eileen Wragg, said: “Paul is an excellent leader, a very good listener and is respectful of everyone on the council. He will fully consult with everyone on his cabinet and I fully support his nomination as leader. He will lead the council into a better place than it has been for the last year.”

The new cabinet consists of:

Cllr Paul Arnott – Leader of the council

Cllr Eileen Wragg – Deputy leader of the council

Cllr Jess Bailey – Corporate Resources and COVID recovery

Cllr Megan Armstrong- Sustainable homes and communities

Cllr Geoff Jung – Coast, countryside and environment

Cllr Marianne Rixson – Climate change

Cllr Dan Ledger – Strategic Planning

Cllr Jack Rowland – Finance

Cllr Paul Hayward – Economy and Assets

Cllr Paul Millar – Democracy and Transparency

Following last May’s elections, the Independent Group, led by Cllr Ingham, took control of the council, but held just 20 of the 60 seats and so ran the council as a minority administration. But following defections from ten of the group, last week Cllr Ingham resigned from his role as leader of the council and the remainder of the cabinet quit their roles.

In a Monitoring Officer’s (MO) office somewhere in the Universe.

So Councillor Tom/Dick/Harry (TDH), I seem to have 200 complaints here saying you brought the council into disrepute by swearing loudly in a public meeting and causing the meeting to end at a crucial point in the votes.  What do you have to say for yourself?

TDH: wasn’t me.

MO: but it was obviously you.

TDH: no, it wasn’t.  It was on Zoom and you couldn’t see my face, so you couldn’t see my lips move.

MO: but TDH, old boy, your voice is so distinctive …..

TDH:  let me stop you there – it could have been anyone .. there is no proof ..

MO: well, I must say that’s a relief … I wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with that one mate …

TDH: no problem, old boy.  Now I have a complaint of my own.

MO: oh yes?  How can I help?

TDH:  I distinctly heard at least 30 people sniggering when my pals were lauding our choice for Leader, and I identified all of them as being the Opposition, every single one of them, even though I couldn’t see anyone so I couldn’t see their lips move …

MO:  now that’s more like it – that’s something I can really get my teeth into!  See you at the usual place tonight?

EDDC Tories in denial. They have finally lost what they thought was theirs by right.

The overriding impression Owl got during last night’s “extraordinary” debates was the indignation shown by Conservative Councillors that they could lose power; that anyone else could possibly run EDDC.

Take Conservative Cllr. Stuart Hughes, Chairman, and his rambling introduction.

He said that initially he had agreed that there would be a full council meeting on June 18 to deal with the matters that would have been discussed at the annual meeting and that it would be up to the members of the council as to if they wished to hold a meeting to hold the meeting for the chairmanship and the leadership of the council.

This is being economical with the truth. He did not say or explain why he had cancelled the Annual meeting in the first place, although this became very clear during the debate.

What it boils down to is that Conservatives have a deep tribal sense of entitlement. For example:

Cllr Dean Barrow spoke against the need for the EGM to be held, saying that the pandemic had a significant impact on the council and that an experienced chairman to lead is needed, while Cllr Moulding added: “Residents would expect the council to be focusing on the response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Cllr Alan Dent added: “It is vital that we have stable leadership and in Cllr Hughes we have someone with the experience and the link with County Hall. To replace him would jeopardise the recovery process and demean the work he has done. To change in the middle of the crisis could be a monumental mistake. This is not the time to hold an EGM.”

Cllr. Moulding said the public does not expect change. One Cllr. (Owl thinks it was also Moulding) said that having a meeting would deny Cllr Hughes his “second year as Chairman”. This was corrected by Vice Chairman Val Ranger who pointed out that constitutionally the posts of Chairman and Vice Chairman are voted annually (at the cancelled Annual meeting – Owl)

This was not the time to change, they argued, even though they had lost their majority in last year’s elections and now the coalition they had supported had also lost its majority.

Listening to him, and the proposers of Cllr Andrew Moulding for the post of Leader, one would be forgiven for thinking they had been in power this past year, rather than the junior partner of a losing coalition.

From their point of view, no one else could be trusted to run things during the epidemic. Owl would retort that in this regard Conservatives are no more experienced than anyone else. Owl has posted a number or articles critical of EDDC’s slowness to act. 

On managing things, Conservatives have form and the voters have rejected it.

The argument for change is quite simple – it’s all about democracy. Ben Ingham’s coalition with the Conservatives had lost their majority.

The Council comfortably voted to have a meeting to select a new Chairman as Owl has reported.

Now to the even more extraordinary meeting to elect a new leader.

Two candidates were proposed:

Cllr Paul Arnott, nominated by Cllr Eillen Wragg and seconded by Cllr Paul Hayward.

Cllr Moulding, proposed by Cllr Tom Wright, seconded Cllr Helen Parr.

(Yes the same Helen Parr Owl featured the other day as the councillor who morphed from “Independent” to “Build, build, build” Conservative).

With 57 of the 60 cast, Cllr Arnott had received 31 votes, with 18 for Cllr Moulding and eight abstentions. Three councillors had yet to vote when the stream crashed.

The disgraceful swearing which appears to have caused youtube to pull the plug included Cllr. Tom Wright, one time Chief Superintendent,. (Owl has had a number of confirmatory reports  of this – his voice is quite distinctive). The proposer of the losing candidate, Cllr Moulding. 

As one correspondent put it: “When you think the Tories have taken us to a new low…. they manage to dig even deeper…”

The conclusion Owl draws is that the Tories are in denial. How can anyone take their power away!.

The other arresting development was when Cllr Ben Ingham came out of the closet and voted for Cllr Moulding to replace him as Leader. How can an “Independent” vote for a Conservative Leader? 

Not surprising to find a number of his “Independent” group not voting the same way as him (the cause of the swearing). 

Explanatory footnote added 29 May

Owl has been asked to clarify who is who in this political saga which is obviously creating interest beyond East Devon. Very briefly, since its creation the East Devon District Council has been in the hands of the Conservative party. At last year’s council election the conservatives lost their majority. The remaining councillors were split between two Independent groups: the East Devon Alliance, led by Paul Arnott and the Independent Group led by Ben Ingham; and the Libdems and Green parties. Ben Ingham had been the official leader of the opposition prior to the election. After a frantic weekend of negotiation, Ben Ingham declared that he had formed a coalition with his group of Independents and the Conservatives rather than with either the Lidems or East Devon Alliance. The clear message from the electorate was that they wanted change but many thought that this coalition simply brought more of the same. Over the past year a  number of the original Ben Ingham Independent group have defected resulting in him losing his majority followed just recently by his resignation. A new coalition then formed between the remainder of Councillors and this coalition, having a narrow majority, has now taken control.

All the councillors named above are Conservatives apart from Paul Arnott and Ben Ingham who’s roles are explained above, the Vice Chairman Val Ranger who is  East Devon Alliance and  Paul Arnott’s proposed and seconder who were Libdem and East Devon Alliance respectively.