‘Unjust proposition’ leads to rift between Mid Devon’s independent councillors

Who wins from these spats – the Conservatives! Owl

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com 

A split between independent members of Mid Devon District Council, over an ‘unjust proposition’ has led to changes on committees and the cabinet.

Seven independent councillors have split into two groups, the New Independent Group and the Non-Aligned, following a fallout over a proposal by the independent leader Councillor Bob Deed (Cadbury, New Independent), to remove fellow independent Councillor Ashley Wilce (Cullompton North, Non-Aligned) from their group.

Councillor Barry Warren (Lower Culm, Non-Aligned), who is the leader of the non-aligned group explained to council on Wednesday, February 23, that the request to remove Cllr Wilce was ‘contrary to common requirements of justice that the condemned man should at least know what he is accused of and this is not the case.’

He added: “Four of the seven members present would not support this unjust proposition.

“The outcome was that the leader and two other independent councillors formed the new independent group, which left five elected independent members ungrouped.”

The two other independent councillors in the group are Councillor Wally Burke (Westexe, New Independent), and Councillor Dennis Knowles (Lowman, New Independent).

He added: “I was asked to act as group leader so representations could be made, and the information obtained and shared as appropriate.

“We are currently all independent councillors, but we formed as a non-aligned group in order that we are open to others who feel they do not wish to be constrained by the dictates by a particular leader or system.

“If anyone wishes to join us you would be welcome. Each member would be free to act as his or her conscious dictates, to best represent those who have elected them. You make your own decisions and answer for your own actions. All that is asked is that we treat one another with respect and accept there are alternative views to our own.

“As the current leader I work on the basis that I am not my brother’s keeper.”

Last week, Councillor Graeme Barnell (Newbrooke, Non-Aligned) announced he would be leaving the Liberal Democrats to take up Cllr Warren’s offer of joining the non-aligned group.

This week, it was announced that non-aligned member Councillor Nikki Woollatt (Cullompton North, Non-Aligned) was removed from her cabinet position with Councillor Clive Eginton taking the role of cabinet member for the working environment and support service.

In an email to members she said: “Cllr Deed informed me that in light of recent events he considered my allegiance to the cabinet and the cabinet system was in question and that there were two ways of dealing with this. I could either resign or be removed.

“I told him that I would not be resigning and if he wanted rid of me that he would need to sack me.

“I also told him that it was his prerogative as leader, but I was not surprised as he had threatened it on numerous occasions throughout the last few years by insinuation and I was aware of occasions in the past when he had offered my portfolio to other members. It will be a relief to no longer have to work within that unhealthy environment.

“Cllr Deed was well aware of my views on the cabinet system when he appointed me. Despite those views I have always been pragmatic and professional enough to work within the system we currently have.”

She added: “As regards my allegiance to cabinet – despite at times not always agreeing with the leader’s actions within cabinet – I have continued to carry out my role and behave professionally.

“Though at times it has been difficult I have continued as I found that by being a cabinet member I was far better informed and had more influence than I had as a back bench member. I felt it was in Cullompton’s and my constituents’ best interests to stick with it.

She added: “I’m disappointed that having nominated and supported Cllr Deed to become leader in 2019 on the understanding that he would try to appoint a politically balanced cabinet we now have have a cabinet with very little diversity. Who is the disloyal one? That may be politics but it’s not my kind of politics.

“But every cloud has a silver lining. Now I have been released from collective cabinet responsibility I will have more freedom and shall return to what my dear friend, the late Councillor Jenny Roach, myself and others used to affectionately call ‘the naughty corner’.”

The changes mean that the independents have lost a seat on the scrutiny committee. At a vote at the council meeting, it was awarded to the Conservative Party.

The move was divisive with Cllr Deed saying the seat should have been given to the independent group. Councillor Elizabeth Lloyd said it should be awarded to the non-aligned.

Cllr Warren added: “The non-aligned group seek to take the scrutiny seat to retain the balance of six Conservatives, three Liberal Democrats, one Green Party and two independents.

“Given to the Conservatives, this will give them more than half of the seats on scrutiny when they already have more than half the seats on cabinet. To control the cabinet and scrutiny committee is hardly creating confidence in the openness and transparency of the council.”

However, Conservative group leader, Councillor Bob Evans (Lower Culm, Conservative) said: “This is a consequence of the independents having a disagreement and forming to separate groups.

“I object to being told by a group of five what we shall or shall not have, so to conclude, given this is a choice, I will move that the new scrutiny position be awarded to the Conservative group.

“I find it very disturbing that this council has in the past debated how we talk to each other, and treat each other, and nobody has mentioned the way our monitoring officer has been treated, and I put it on record that I think it is questionable. Members need to take a long hard look at themselves.”

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