East Devon District Council – the pendulum swings

What follows is Owl’s early interpretation of the most significant changes to have been announced to date and the changes in the pipeline to the power structures of East Devon District Council. Owl has applied “best endeavours” to ensure the details correct at the time of publication and hopes there are no significant errors.

We await the conclusion of the final Act V to ratify nominations of individuals to posts.

New Initiatives

There are three new cabinet portfolios: Democracy and Transparency; a new focus on Covid and on climate change.

The role of Assistant Portfolio Holder has also been created to help the following four portfolio holders: The Economy and Assets portfolio; Coast, Country and Environment portfolio; Climate Action portfolio and The Finance portfolio.

Quite how these work is, as yet, unclear but Owl sees in the Agenda pack for next week’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM – (Act V)) that a new section defining their roles is to be included in Article 6 of the constitution. 

The Agenda pack says that instead of the Cabinet setting up “Think Tanks” to assist portfolio holders  this will now be done by “Portfolio Teams”. Portfolio Teams will be cross-party, have up to 15 members, on the basis of the political balance as far as possible, and that delegated authority given to the Monitoring Officer to work with Group Leaders to constitute the membership of the Teams rather than it being a matter for Council to approve. 

The Agenda pack also says that the new administration is of the view that the role of Lead Member needs review and is likely to be superseded by an effective Portfolio Team approach as well as the work of the Governance Review Working Party. 

Owl has already mentioned that The Development Management Committee will revert to its original title of Planning Committee. A few words, but highly significant ones.

The shift in the Power Balance

Prior to the election of May 2019, the Conservatives (who had been in power since 1974) had a majority of 9 seats. The May poll left them with only 19 against 20 seats for Independents, 11 for East Devon Alliance, 8 for Liberal Democrats and 2 for the Green party. Cllr. Ben Ingham (who resigned from the Conservative Party around 15 years ago but campaigned and was elected as an Independent) took control of the council by forming an informal  partnership/coalition with the Conservative councillors. There were no Conservatives in Ben Ingham’s Cabinet but Conservative Cllr. Stuart Hughes became the Chairman of the council and, crucially, Conservatives were given key roles in influential committees.

Gradually members of Ben Ingham’s Independent Group have defected.

In March 2020, members of the Green, Independent East Devon Alliance (EDA) and Liberal Democrat (LibDem) parties and an Independent Councillor combined to form a new group with the title the Democratic Alliance numbering 23 – now 24. The Democratic Alliance Group (DAG).

In the second week of May 2020 eight members of Ben Ingham’s Independent Group resigned from the group. One joined the Democratic Alliance (see above) and seven created the Independent Progressive Group (IPG).

Soon after, the two groups (Democratic Alliance and Independent Progressive Group) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together. Given that they had 31 out of a total of 60 EDDC councillors, they held a majority. Owl uses the abbreviation MG (Majority Group) to describe them in the tables that follow.

Cllr Paul Arnott and Cllr Eileen Wragg were subsequently elected Leader and Deputy Leader; Cllr Dr Cathy Gardner and Cllr Val Ranger were elected Council Chairman and Vice Chairman.

How the new Power Balance is reflected in the allocation of seats on Committees

(Political power balance rules do not apply to the Cabinet nor does it apply to the appointment to outside bodies which yet have to be announced.)

The new cabinet May 2020

(Leader appointments, political balance does not apply)

Councillor Megan Armstrong MG (IPG)  Sustainable Homes & Communities portfolio holder 

Councillor Paul Arnott MG ( EDA) (Chairman of Cabinet – Leader of Council) 

Councillor Jess Bailey  MG (IPG) Corporate Services and Covid-19 Response & Recovery 

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

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

Councillor Dan Ledger MG (EDA)  Strategic Development portfolio

Councillor Paul Millar MG (Ind)  Democracy and Transparency portfolio

Councillor Marianne Rixson MG (EDA)  Climate Action portfolio holder, assistant portfolio holder Cllr Denise Bickley MG (EDA)

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

Councillor Eileen Wragg MG (LibDem)  (Vice-Chairman of Cabinet, Deputy Leader of Council) 

Note: three of these were genuine independents in the Ingham Cabinet  (Megan Armstrong, Jess Bailey and Geoff Jung) – four if you include Paul Millar who resigned last September and who was not replaced (too radical?)

Committees

(nominations to be ratified on 24 June)

Next to the cabinet, the real power in the council lies in the business conducted by a handful of politically balanced committees. So who chairs these and the balance of parties within them is critically important. Remember that the Chairman has the casting vote! 

There are a total of 113 seats across the 11 formal committees in EDDC. EDDC treats the DAG and IPG as separate entities, but since they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding Owl has introduced an additional row in the table to give the combined total for ease of comparing numbers with those of the Opposition and the remaining “unaligned” groups. The smaller groups such as the Independents and Cranbrook Voice appear to have done proportionately better than the larger groups through generous rounding.

This first table shows how these 113 seats are allocated across the political groupings

Democratic Alliance Group (DAG) 24 members 40% 46 seats 
Independent Progressive Group (IPG) 7 members 11.67% 13 seats 
Total Majority Group (MG) 31 members 51.67% 59 seats
Conservative Group The Opposition 20 members  33.33% 38 seats
The Independents (Rump of Ingham’s Group) 5 members  8.33% 10 seats 
Cranbrook Voice (CV) 3 members 5%  6 seats 
Independent 1 member 1.67%  0 seats
TOTALS 60 100 113

The second table lists nominations for the EGM as Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs. The table also shows individual affiliations.

Committee Chairman Vice Chairman
Overview Committee Nick Hookway MG(IPG) Vicky Johns MG(IPG)
Scrutiny Committee Colin Brown Con Val Ranger MG(EDA)
Housing Review Board  Tony McCollum MG(IPG) To be appointed by Housing Review Board 
Strategic Planning Committee  Dan Ledger MG(EDA) Olly Davey MG(Green)
Planning Committee Eileen Wragg MG(LibDem) Sarah Chamberlain MG(LibDem)
Audit & Governance Committee Sam Hawkins CV Paul Millar MG(Ind)
Standards Committee Chairman of the Council  No appointment required 
Interviewing (Chief Officers) Leader Deputy Leader
Investigating and Disciplinary Committee  Deputy Leader  No appointment required 
Employment Appeals  Fabian King MG(LibDem) No appointment required
Licensing and Enforcement Joe Whibley MG (Ind) Kim Bloxham CV

This last table shows membership of five selected key Committees – the number of allocated seats and Proportional Balance 

Number in Group % of Council membership 15 seats: Scrutiny

Chair Con

13 seats Overview

Chair IPG

15 seats Strategic Planning

Chair DAG

16 seats Planning

Chair DAG

10 seats Audit and Governance

Chair CV

24 Democratic Alliance Group (40%) 6 5 6 7 4
7 Independent Progressive Group (11.67%) 2 2 2 2 1
31 Total Majority Group  (51.67%) 8 7 8 9 5
20 Conservative Group (33.33%) 5 4 5 5 3
5 The Independents (8.33%) 1 1 1 1 1
3 Cranbrook Voice (5%) 1 1 1 1 1
1 Independent (1.67%) 0 0 0 0 0