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.

 

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

  1. 1. As I have pointed out before, the EDDC Constitution clearly states that it is the CEO and NOT the Chairman who is responsible for calling – and cancelling – council / committee meetings. As Chairman, Stuart Hughes had absolutely no right or authority to do so. PERIOD.

    2. However, if we let that pass and look only on whether an Annual Meeting was a sensible idea in the local circumstances…

    The first situation that the Council faced was a majority opposition. In such circumstances, any ethical administration who believed in democracy would resign gracefully on principle. THEY DIDN’T.

    In such circumstances, where a majority opposition can effectively vote down any policies they don’t like, a minority administration has great practical difficulties in running the council. In such circumstances, any practical administration that wasn’t desperate to cling to power regardless would resign gracefully in order to facilitate a practical handover to an alternative administration who did command a majority – particularly important during a pandemic when practical decisions needed to be made. THEY DIDN’T.

    Now let’s turn to the disinformation stated by Stuart Hughes, and look at each point individuallY:

    A. “Posturing and Game Playing by some members of the council” – Top of my list of “game playing” would be an administration whose leadership sacks some members of the cabinet with the rest resigning en-mass, leaving the council rudderless, and then refusing to hold the Annual Meeting which is needed to elect a new leadership. THAT IS NOT MINOR GAME PLAYING – THAT IS PLAYING GAMES WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS OF BOTH COUNCIL OPERATION AND DEMOCRACY. And Stuart Hughes is the figurehead of the set of councillors who did this. For him to even attempt to criticise others, is RANK HYPOCRISY of the worst possible kind – shame on him and his cronies. Resigning as Chairman when a new one was about to be elected anyway is an empty gesture, apparently done only so he could write this disgraceful resignation letter and he has been entirely unapologetic about the games he played with council operation and democracy. For these actions and this statement alone, Stuart Hughes should consider his position as a Councillor.

    B. “Petty rivalries between the EDA and various Independent members of the council” – there has undoubtedly been wrangling about whether the previous leaderships policies were the right ones, with an increasingly majority opposition becoming increasingly vocal, made more noticeable because of its contrast with the previous situation where the leadership refused to allow the opposition to have any say in policy making, essentially avoided and prevented any meaningful debate on policies and did everything they could to prevent the opposition making points which might well have had merit. In such circumstances where the leadership are denying genuine democracy, arguments between factions are rooted in the democratic deficit and cannot therefore ever be considered petty.

    It should also be noted that according to the EDDC Constitution, it is the Chairman, Stuart Hughes, who was responsible for ensuring that democracy thrived at EDDC rather than wilted on the vine. (How Stuart Hughes can square this responsibility for upholding democracy with his cancelling the Annual Meeting needed to ensure it, I have no idea. Based on this responsibility and his rank abdication of it, Stuart Hughes should be considering his position as Councillor, not just resigning as Chairman.

    C.”This has seriously undermined the integrity … of the council” – As Chairman, according to the EDDC Constitution, the responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the council was Stuart Hughes’. IMO the BIGGEST issue of Integrity was leaving the council both without a leadership team by cancelling the Annual Meeting needed to elect a new team – in other words it was Stuart Hughes himself who single handedly created the biggest lack of integrity, when it was his constitutional responsibility to ensure it. Based on this responsibility and his rank abdication of it, Stuart Hughes should be considering his position as Councillor, not just resigning as Chairman.

    The second biggest lack of integrity was a leadership team that sacked dissenting cabinet members and resigned en mass rather than waiting for the Annual Meeting and then effecting an orderly handover to the new leadership team. Ben Ingham and cronies should be considering their positions as Councillors as a consequence of this behaviour.

    Anything else was simply the opposition fulfilling their democratic role and acting as a check and balance on administrative power that would otherwise be unfettered. By definition, it is the responsibility of the Council Chairman, and Leadership team to ensure the integrity of the council, and you cannot blame an opposition fulfilling their democratic role for any loss of integrity.

    D. “This has seriously undermined the integrity … [of] my role as Chairman” – Sorry, Stuart. The only person who did that was YOU. If you are unable to understand your constitutionally defined role of upholding the democratic operation of the council and upholding its integrity, there is no one else to blame but yourself. Based on this this, Stuart Hughes should be considering his position as Councillor, not just resigning as Chairman.

    E. “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.” As far as I know, this is factually incorrect. I have listened to Paul Arnott’s speech, and as far as I am aware he did NOT blame Stuart Hughes for the abandonment of the Extraordinary Meeting – particularly since Tom Wright had already apologised unreservedly for having caused that – but instead directly blamed you for the cancellation of the previously scheduled Annual Meeting, which as far as I know is established fact. If he is able, Stuart Hughes should immediately provide evidence of Paul Arnott making this accusation – and if not he should resign as Councillor for abusing his position in his final act as Chairman.

    F. ““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.” EXACTLY. So why then were Ben Ingham and Stuart Hughes and cronies doing exactly this, clinging on at a time when a majority leadership was most important?

    G. “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.” As far as I am aware, the new administration will do as all new administrations do – keep the ship on its current course until such time as they can make sensible and rational decisions to change course. As far as I am aware, the ONLY specific policy that the new administration has published is to commit to being truly democratic – inclusive, transparent and accountable – and I cannot see how this is going to cost very much if anything to achieve. As far as I know, having only just announced the Cabinet but not yet held a Cabinet meeting, they have not yet published any proposed policies (which of course need to go through the Council’s democratic processes before they become actual policies, so I am not sure what the pipe-dreams and their costs might be – again, this is not unusual. As an ex-chairman, with responsibility for democracy, Stuart Hughes should know full well that policies only become policies through democratic ratification, so this statement again made without any evidence can only be considered sour grapes.

    H. “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.” Does Stuart Hughes really believe that we are too stupid to recognise that: 1) £72m is a drop in the ocean compared to the previous cuts imposed by the Conservatives; and 2) If the Conservative Government had taken the pandemic seriously at the outset, and taken prompt action on lock-downs / track & trace, the lockdowns would have been far shorter and the impact on individuals and businesses far less. Of all the statements made by Stuart Hughes in his resignation propaganda letter, this is probably the most facile, and he should have known better.

    I. “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.” Since we was about to be replaced anyway, this can only be considered grand-standing. More to the point, earlier in the letter he made it clear that in the current pandemic, he believed that the opposition councillors (of which he is now one) should stand fully behind the administration and support them. These statements are entirely contradictory and prove again that Stuart Hughes is a RANK HYPOCRIT.

    J. Finally, let us look again at the role of the Chairman as defined by the EDDC Constitution. I quote:

    “The Chairman will have the following responsibilities:
    1. To uphold and promote the purposes of the Constitution, and to interpret the Constitution when necessary having regard to appropriate advice
    2. To preside over meetings of the Council so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of Councillors and the interests of the community
    3. To ensure that at the Council meeting Councillors who are not on the Cabinet or who are not Chairmen of Committees are able to hold the Cabinet and Committee Chairmen to account
    4. Generally, to be the conscience of the Council”

    It is generally understood that to undertake these responsibilities a Chairman need to be non-partisan – especially so if he is to uphold point 3. Stuart Hughes’ last act as Chairman, writing his resignation letter, is clearly entirely partisan – indeed it needs to be filed under P for Propaganda. His actions in cancelling the Annual Meeting were highly partisan, ignorant of the constitution he is supposed to uphold. In short his actions as Chairman were and are indefensible – and IMO these also make his position as Cllr untenable.

    I THEREFORE CALL UPON CLLR STUART HUGHES TO RESIGN AS COUNCILLOR FORTHWITH.

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    • One point has occurred to me since I posted the above…

      I cannot for the life of me work out how Stuart Hughes was expected “to be the conscience of the [entire] Council” when his resignation letter seems to demonstrate that he is lacking in any conscience for his own recent actions which broke all three of the previous responsibilities.

      BUT, I think I should also apologise for making my criticisms of Stuart so individual – because in reality he is simply part of a broader group of Councillors – both Tory and pseudo-Independent – all of whom demonstrate the same failures of character. Shame on the lot of them,

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    • Paul Arnott has also reminded me (in something he has since said elsewhere in response to Stuart Hughes resignation) that it was in fact Stuart Hughes own party, the Conservatives, who proposed a vote of no confidence in the previous leader, Ben Ingham – it seems that it was in fact his own party who were “posturing and ‘game playing’ by some members of the council on a daily basis during the COVID-19 crisis” not as he stated “the EDA and various Independent members of the council”.

      This appears to have been an outright untruth in his resignation letter – or as Donald Trump’s ex-ex-ex-press secretary would have said “an alternative fact”. As I suggested, IMO Stuart Hughes resignation letter should reasonably be considered as party propaganda.

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