East Devon District Council chairman, Cllr Stuart Hughes, resigns. New leader says it’s a relief.

Once again Cllr Stuart Hughes rehearses his reasons for resigning form his “non-political” office as Chairman of EDDC.

In this article we hear the other side of the story from new Leader Paul Arnott. In measured terms he puts the record straight saying: “East Devon people must find these graceless political knockabouts pretty shameful, and I agree. So here are some facts……”

Daniel Clark and Philippa Davies www.sidmouthherald.co.uk 

The chairman of East Devon District Council has resigned from his role, claiming that the current ruling group of councillors have ‘no relevant experience, proven skills or clear and obvious plan.’

Cllr Stuart Hughes confirmed on Monday, June 1 that he has stepped down from his chairmanship role but will remain as a councillor.

Speaking to this title, he said he had ‘thought about it very seriously over the weekend’ and decided to ‘do the decent thing’.

The newly elected leader of EDDC, Councillor Paul Arnott described the resignation as a ‘relief’.

In his resignation letter to EDDC’s chief executive, Mark Williams, Cllr Hughes said he has ‘no wish to continue or be considered for a second term of office as Civic Head of a Council seemingly set on a deliberate downward spiral’.

He said he had enjoyed his second term as chairman, which is not a political role, with ‘the support of the very professional officers at the council and most members from a variety of political persuasions’.

The letter continues: “Unfortunately, continual posturing and ‘game playing’ by some members of the council on a daily basis during the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in chaos and confusion because of petty rivalries between the EDA (East Devon Alliance) and various Independent members of the council.

“This has seriously undermined the integrity and day to day work of the council and my role as Chairman.”

“At this time all our efforts should be solely focused on how we can all help reduce the impact of the virus in East Devon whilst protecting our economy, not playing politics between various parties and independent groups to temporarily satisfy a small clique’s personal ambitions.”

Two extraordinary meetings of the full council were held on Thursday, May 28 and Friday, May 29. The second meeting saw Cllr Paul Arnott elected as the new leader of the council following the earlier resignation of Cllr Ben Ingham from the role.

In his acceptance speech he said that he said that the dignified thing for Cllr Hughes to have done would have been to have stepped down from the role and that he came very close to calling for his resignation.

Speaking on Monday, Cllr Arnott said: “It is a relief to see Cllr Hughes leave the chair at East Devon. He took the opportunity provided by a change in legislation by the government to prematurely cancel the annual council meeting, and this decision has predictably created five meetings at a time of crisis to do the same business.

“I have no doubt that he hoped for an outcome where he simply stayed in the chair for a second year, described by his leader last week as ‘the regular term’, wrong constitutionally and undesirable politically.

“He claims to have filled the chair as a ‘civic’ role, but this sweeping statement on his way out parrots Tory press releases.

“East Devon people must find these graceless political knockabouts pretty shameful, and I agree. So here are some facts. The new Cabinet has a new portfolio role dedicated to Covid-19 response and recovery, and this week is filled with meetings to get that going. It has a new portfolio role for Climate Action, essential for environment and economic recovery, and again the unit of four looking at all this is already meeting. It has a four-person unit looking at the broad spectrum of finances, necessary because of the millions of pounds projected black holes left by the outgoing Tories exacerbated by their own government.

“The Cabinet of 10 has five former Cabinet members and an array of highly experienced people from business and local government. And crucially we have a stable majority of 32 who voted for us to take over, following the motion of non-confidence in the last Leader by Cllr Hughes’ own Conservative colleagues as the virus swept across Europe in February, and then that Leader’s resignation in the last fortnight.

“All that said, I wish Cllr Hughes best wishes for his imminent county council campaign and for his unique ongoing work as a local radio disc jockey.”

A meeting will be held on Monday, June 8 to elect a new chairman and vice-chairman for the 2020/21 year.

BREAKING: ‘Game playing’ forces Sidmouth’s Stuart Hughes to resign as district council chairman

Sidmouth county and district councillor Stuart Hughes has resigned as EDDC Chairman today.

(But not with grace or dignity – Owl)

Joseph Bulmer sidmouth.nub.news 

Mr Hughes has resigned from the role of Chairman with immediate effect, calling attempts to blame him for the abandonment of an extraordinary meeting of the council on May 27 the ‘final straw’.

The Chairman of East Devon is the Civic Head of the Council and is not a political role.

Last week the council came under new leadership following the resignation of former leader councillor Ben Ingham and his cabinet.

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

In his resignation letter Mr Hughes warns that council tax may rise, ‘as the new administration fails to balance ambition with reality’.

Here’s the letter Mr Hughes wrote to EDDC CEO Mark Williams: “I have very much enjoyed my second term as Chairman of EDDC, together with the support of the very professional officers at the council and most members from a variety of political persuasions.

“Unfortunately, continual posturing and ‘game playing’ by some members of the council on a daily basis during the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in chaos and confusion because of petty rivalries between the EDA and various Independent members of the council. This has seriously undermined the integrity and day to day work of the council and my role as Chairman. The party leader of the East Devon Alliance and the new “Democratic Alliance” aggressively saying I am responsible for
the abandonment of the Extraordinary meeting of EDDC on the 27th of May is the final straw.

“At this time all our efforts should be solely focused on how we can all help reduce the impact of the virus in East Devon whilst protecting our economy, not playing politics between various parties and independent groups to temporarily satisfy a small clique’s personal ambitions.

“There is no obvious and clear strategy from the Democratic Alliance (including what is left of the Lib Dems and a mixed bag of others) and the new Independent grouping, other than pipe dreams. I’ve seen no evidence of how changes to plans or services might be costed, and fear council tax will rise across East Devon as the new administration fails to balance ambition with reality. They also need to recognise that £72m has been given to EDDC by the Conservative government to help hundreds of individuals and businesses throughout the pandemic.

“I have no wish to continue or be considered for a second term of office as Civic Head of a Council seemingly set on a deliberate downward spiral. This is despite the former Conservative administration at EDDC leaving office with a set of balanced books and ‘Money in the Bank’ at the start of the new council in 2019. Like many other councillors and members of the public, I remain totally in the dark as to how the latest version of a coalition of so called Independents and others will deal with old and new challenges facing the Council, on top of the added burden of COVID-19
on services to residents of East Devon.

“For these reasons, I cannot support an administration with no relevant experience, proven skills or clear and obvious plan. I therefore resign my role as Chairman of EDDC with immediate effect.”

Nub News has contacted the Democratic Alliance for a response to Mr Hughes’ resignation.


Comment on Tories near-hysterical reaction to change

As a correspondent points out:

Is “Business as Usual” compatible with the “New Normal”?  Does age confer wisdom?

It seems that, since the regime change at East Devon District Council last week, the district’s minority-group Tory councillors (just 19 out of 60) has developed a near-hysterical reaction to the change.

Their first reaction is that no change should be made while Covid 19 is a major problem.

This is weird – because, up to now, all decisions on Covid 19 have been made either by officers (administering local grants and loans from national sources) and Ben Ingham’s dysfunctional Cabinet – which had only been in power for one year!  During that one year, the last six months saw the fracturing of support for Ingham and the threat of a Conservative-led vote of o confidence in him.  Is this the “continuity” the Tories desired?  What exactly has been their winning formula for dealing with Covid 19.  Most initiatives have been local, non-political ones – uniting people rather than dividing them on party lines – surely the correct approach.

Secondly, as one who watched the 3 chaotic meetings last week, one theme kept cropping up from Tory apologists as a reason they (and their mates) should once again rule the roost – because they always have done.

Little nuggets such as:

–    Moulding should be Leader because he has spent 33 years on the council, he’s done some voluntary work and that he could be trusted because he’s an obsessive cricket fan (Somerset!) and so would naturally “play fair”.  Anyone remembering the shennanigans over planning at Millway Rise can surely put paid to that one!

–    A remark that Stuart Hughes should remain Chairman because he also serves on Devon County Council.  That one can be shot down with one word “Potholes”!  And there are rumblings that Mr Hughes is seen more often in Yeovil than in Sidmouth these days …..

It seems that Tories –  decimated at the election last year simply cannot accept that the district voted them OUT.  They cannot conceive of anything other than being IN.

In, out, in out – shake it all about … that’s what people voted for and that is what has finally been achieved.  Suck it up, Tories!  It’s the “new normal” in district politics!

Who shot our Fox? – Tories complain about leadership change

This empty refrain has surfaced even sooner than Owl believed possible.

They are still in deep denial.

Conservative EDDC’s Chairman Cllr Stuart Hughes attempts to thwart change as a partner in a minority coalition by cancelling the EDDC Annual Meeting, when all posts are reaffirmed or not, have failed. Problem for the East Devon Tories is that don’t have an understanding of democracy. Never mind they will learn.

For picture of Councillor Moulding EDDC Conservative Leader with caption “I nominate myself!” see www.radioexe.co.uk 

East Devon Tories complain about leadership change


Then immediately call for another one!

When local elections came midway through the parliamentary Brexit debacle of 2019, voters in East Devon took the opportunity to tell the ruling Conservatives, who had led the council since pre-historic times, to metaphorically sling their hook. Just 19 Tories were voted onto East Devon District Council last year, putting them in the minority, and bringing the opportunity for a fresh start under control of independent councillors. A year on, the independent who led the council, Ben Ingham, a former Tory, was dethroned by other independents and a replaced with a new independent.

Now Conservative councillors are complaining about the distraction caused by the leadership change – and then have immediately called for another one, with them in charge!

Leader of the Tories on the council, Andrew Moulding, says: “As Conservatives, we are focusing all our efforts to help reduce the impact of the virus in East Devon, supporting members of our community. I’m incredibly disappointed that various factions’ members, elected to EDDC, think it’s a good idea to change leadership of the council for no obvious reason, during the Covid-19 crisis. My added concern is that this is not for the good of the people in East Devon or their best interests, but merely to satisfy their personal ambition.”

Such is the distress of diverting attention from tackling the virus with unnecessary leadership contests, that Councillor Goulding sic.[Moulding?]. presumably with a straight face, is putting himself forward to be leader of the council instead. Although he doesn’t say this bit in the East Devon Tory statement issued on Sunday, the Tories have less than a third of the seats. The leadership group formed last week has cobbled together an alliance of 31 councillors to take control, but Councillor Moulding is worried that other groups on the council “have no experience of council leadership,” – the logical conclusion being that elections are pretty much a waste of time, as, up until last year, only Conservatives ran the council.

Councillor Moulding says he understands why the electorate gave the Tories “a bloody nose” last year, “largely and overwhelmingly as a protest against Brexit delays.”

In the week that the Conservative government is recalling MPs to parliament and abandoning electronic voting in the House of Commons, the Conservative group on East Devon Council is also urging all councillors to postpone non-urgent meetings, possibly until May 2021.

South West sends a message to Boris Johnson – but who is sending it?

Unelected, unaccountable Quangos , overseen by an even more obscure animal called “The Great South West”, not to be confused with any rail franchise – that’s who – Owl.

They have been very quiet up to now. No doubt rewriting their strategic plans for us. Owl recalls the time circa 2014 when Heart of the South West was even pitching to run our health services (to make us more productive as we age). So far we have escaped that one. They always seem to involve the same business characters, like Steve Hindley, that hop from one to another. Simple question – what have they ever achieved apart from publish glossy brochures?  Are these the people who we should trust to run our recovery?

South West sends a message to Boris Johnson

The South West needs help like never before as the region’s economy looks set to be the hardest hit in the UK by the Covid-19 crisis.

The South West has suffered its biggest economic shock in 100 years, according to a new report, and coastal and rural towns that rely on tourism, retail and small businesses are the biggest casualties.

Cornwall alone has lost out on £450million in visitor spend this month, new figures show.

And the implications go far deeper for every business, including the food and farming supply chain, travel, manufacturing and commercial property as workers abandon offices for home working.

Economic leaders say that now more than ever, the government needs to get behind The Great South West initiative to secure the prosperity of the region as it looks to rebuild with the green economy at its heart.

David Ralph, chief executive of the Heart of the South West LEP and a leading voice in The Great South West campaign said there is a real danger that the South West has been seen as the ‘lucky one’ because the numbers of those affected by the pandemic have been the lowest in the UK.

But there are going to be serious long term effects with tourism and leisure the last areas of society to be released from lockdown.

He said: ”Our economy has been hit hard and early through its collapse of key bedrock sectors such as tourism; the changing supply and fulfilment regimes in food supply and distribution and air travel, is an already fragile business sector.

“There are currently no passenger flights at Exeter airport, there is one at Newquay and we have seen the closure of Shearings Holidays. It is not just individual small businesses in the High Street but the big infrastructure that is really changing.”

Cornwall, Devon and South Somerset  have all been identified by Government as being severely economically impacted by the pandemic.

The collapse of Flybe in March and the loss of Shearings holidays and its seven hotels in Cornwall and four in Devon are among the casualties.

Last month, an initial impact study of Covid -19 on the region by the University of Exeter concluded: “The South West Peninsular is in the midst of a profound economic shock, potentially the deepest in 100 years.

“Much of the region’s economy has been shut down and high levels of dependence on shutdown sectors, accommodation, food and drink, leisure, travel and non-essential retail, suggests that our region will be particularly hard hit.”

Tourism bosses across the region have stressed that visitors must stay away and the question now is can the region’s cafes, bars, hotels and attractions safely open for season ahead.

The fear is unless businesses can open up in some way this season, they will effectively face three winters in a row, which many may not survive.

Glenn Caplin, chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “We have already seen a huge reduction in visitor spend. In May, Visit Cornwall predicted a loss of £450million.”

He said tourism bosses had shown great leadership in putting health and wellbeing first and unless the region is able to safely manage the easing of lockdown restrictions, a second spike could potentially be more devastating for the region.

He said:  “If we see the lockdown end in July then a second spike is possible. If that happens and there is another lockdown in July and August, where we would lose potentially £800million in visitor spend, that would have a severe impact on the tourism industry.

“We want to see a sector specific support package to help the industry recover which could involve flexible furlough and support through the summer months that will help keep businesses going through winter.”

In Torquay, Susie Colley, chairman of the Torquay Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Torquay Town Deal said that Easter was like a ‘ghost town’, but however tempting it is to open up for the summer, an influx of visitors could be even more devastating.

And like all seaside towns, Torquay has to re-imagine what the future will look like.

She said that the formation of the Town Deal Partnership aims to create £25million seed funding to act as a catalyst for redevelopment of the town centre, including the neglected Pavilion and tourist hubs like The Strand.

She said: “I think that Covid will accelerate that plan, because with tourism taking a big hit, we are going to be bereft to put it mildly.

“We welcome the  government funding put in place to help businesses through but we have to think long term. If we don’t get the £25million to re-do the town, I really don’t know what the future will hold.”

And it’s not just tourism but the small rural high streets that have been devastated, with Newquay coming out top of the 20 hardest hit areas in England and Wales, according to a recent Centres for Towns report. Footfall in towns is down by an average of 85% and even buoyant areas like Exeter have been affected with the loss of 15% of its population this spring, due to students returning home.

Even those towns and cities that have reshaped themselves as ‘destinations’ will also struggle until shoppers feel safe going out again.

Manufacturing, particularly those supplying the mass transit and air passenger sectors, has been affected – with the sector making up 14% of jobs in Plymouth.

Stuart Brocklehurst, chief executive of Applegate, an online procurement business in North Devon, said that the businesses that will best survive will have already embraced digital selling platforms and will be identifying new customer bases.

He said: “The greatest determinant of which businesses survive will be the approach they take to the situation, in terms of planning ahead how to survive tough times, not just now but over the next couple of years, and also – very importantly – how they take the time now to work out which new markets they may be able to address as we emerge.”

The Covid-19 response will shape the future economy for the South West with a new appetite for the green economy. The Great South West partners are forging ahead with the Great South West Prospectus  – Securing Our Future, which was launched before lockdown.

It states that its long term plans to create England’s greenest economy will deliver £35billion of economic uplift and support 190,000 jobs.

It plans for the South West to become the largest carbon sink in England and to pioneer carbon-zero food production and farming.

It wants to secure ultrafast connectivity to 80% of business premises by 2025 and become a world leader in autonomous marine technologies.

Mr Ralph said:  “Our environmental assets and natural capital will become more valuable over time in the need for clean energy and carbon sequestration.

“Our prospectus delivers directly to the future of work and people’s desire for a high quality and safer environment.”

Mr Caplin added: “We don’t want to minimise the challenges we are facing in the months ahead but I do think that the Great South West can contribute to the national recovery by accelerating of the low carbon economy.

“What we have seen during all of this is what can be achieved by the public and private sector working together and we can take on the climate emergency if we take on this approach.”

Owls’ first impressions on the “Changing of the Guard” at EDDC HQ Blackdown House . 

Based on what we know so far and after two Owls put their heads together.

Why is this Cabinet  so different?

It’s a mixture of a new culture based on adherence to the Nolan principles and a new direction.

There are three new cabinet portfolios: Democracy and Transparency; a new focus on Covid and on climate change. There is also the creation of a group of unpaid understudy posts (Owl’s term for assistants) to strengthen key portfolios. It  gives four relatively new councillors the opportunity to shadow more experienced members and provide a wider range of view. These seem to have been mostly drawn from the younger end of the council age group.

On gender balance, Paul Arnott has doubled the number of women in the cabinet so that there are now four in a cabinet of ten..

The finesse Paul Arnott has achieved is to make significant changes whilst keeping continuity in some of the critical areas. He has retained three cabinet members and brought back Paul Millar who resigned last September. He has also ensured, by making Cllr Eileen Wragg his deputy with her deep experience (she has been a previous cabinet member), that there will be no loss of any essential corporate memory. (Though Owl thinks there are many memories that can safely be buried. )

He has neatly “shot the Tory fox”; their argument that only they could bring continuity and experience to the council in the pandemic emergency. Though Owl expects to hear them deploy this argument  repeatedly next week, during the election of a Chairman and Vice Chairman, assuming they contest it. 

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 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. Cllr Arnott has 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 has said: “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 be 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 cabinet May 2020

(N) – new

Councillor Megan Armstrong   Sustainable Homes & Communities portfolio holder 

Councillor Paul Arnott (N) (Chairman) 

Councillor Jess Bailey   Corporate Services and Covid-19 Response & Recovery 

Councillor Paul Hayward (N)  The Economy and Assets portfolio, assistant portfolio holder Cllr Geoff Pratt (N)

Councillor Geoff Jung   Coast, Country and Environment portfolio, assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Eleanor Rylance. (N)

Councillor Dan Ledger (N)  Strategic Development portfolio

Councillor Paul Millar   Democracy and Transparency portfolio

Councillor Marianne Rixson (N)  Climate Action portfolio holder, assistant portfolio holder Cllr Denise Bickley (N).

Councillor Jack Rowland (N) The Finance portfolio holder, assistant portfolio holder is Cllr John Loudoun(N)

Councillor Eileen Wragg (N) (Vice-Chairman) 

Owl now waits to hear who the new Chairs of some key committees will be and who will represent EDDC on outside bodies such as the AONB and the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP)