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.
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.