Casino councils (EDDC would like to be one)

EDDC story:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/11/04/eddc-a-casino-council/

“Gloucester city council has bought a local retail park for £54 million, almost four times its net annual budget.

It acquired St Oswalds from Hammerson, the FTSE 250 shopping centre owner that is seeking to sell all its out-of-town properties. Tenants at the site include B&Q, Homesense and Mothercare, which went into administration this month.

A spokeswoman for the council said that it could not yet comment on the acquisition because of a non-disclosure agreement.

Councils have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on commercial property in recent years as they try to create a rental income stream to plug funding cuts from central government. Some have sought to buy neglected shopping centres in their areas as part of regeneration plans.

However, critics have raised concerns about the extent to which councils have tied their futures to an uncertain property market. Retail park valuations have fallen sharply as a series of well-known store chains have fallen into administration or have used insolvency procedures to close shops or lower rents. Hammerson reported a 10.9 per cent fall in the value of its retail parks in the six months to the end of June.

The Conservative-led local authority in Gloucester created an £80 million property investment fund in 2017 to help to make up for a £2.6 million deficit anticipated for the subsequent five years. It said that it would borrow 100 per cent of the cash for the fund, indicating that it would seek to find money from the Public Works Loan Board, the government body that issues loans to councils for capital projects.

The Treasury has started to crack down on risky property acquisitions by local authorities by increasing interest rates on new loans from the board. Before last month, the government charged an interest rate margin of 0.8 percentage points over the gilt rate; this has more than doubled to 1.8 percentage points over the gilt rate.

Last month Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, criticised local authorities that had used borrowing from the board to buy “quite risky assets” outside their areas. He cited shopping centres, which he said “may well not turn out to be good investments at all and [are] only possible because the taxpayer is providing such attractive loans through the board”.

Source: The Times (pay wall)

EDDC resigned/sacked councillor attempts to change constitution over parking price rises

Nice to see the non-Independent Group councillors of different parties and no party flexing their collective muscle!

“Councillor Paul Millar has tabled a motion for the next full council meeting, calling for car park strategy to be added to the list of 12 areas of policy the full council has the final say over – taking decisions out of the cabinet’s hands.

The cabinet, made up of nine councillors from the ruling Independent Group, has agreed to put parking charge changes out to a public consultation.

The proposals include raising the hourly rate in some East Devon car parks from £1 to £1.20 and introducing pay-and-display to previously free car parks.

According to the council’s constitution, cabinet can make decisions on parking changes without consulting full council.

Cllr Millar’s motion, which has been ratified by the chief executive, would force cabinet to make a recommendation to full council instead.

In an email seen by this title, Cllr Millar writes: “I believe this amendment is a vital safeguard to ensure the leader does not rush ahead with a consultation on a policy the vast majority of members do not support.

“It would be a waste exercise, and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“I believe we must ensure that democracy is served.”

In response, East Devon leader Ben Ingham said: “With most notice of motions, unless I have put them forward or supported submission, I like to hear the debate in full before deciding.

“In the past, I have found keeping a motion simple is best.

“We shall see.”

Following the cabinet’s decision to launch a consultation, the proposals were called in by EDDC’s scrutiny committee which decided to set up a forum to consider car parking tariffs in East Devon.

Cllr Millar, an Independent councillor who is no longer part of the ruling Independent Group, is concerned that cabinet will press ahead with the consultation before the parking forum reports back with its findings.

The motion to change the constitution, set to be discussed at the full council meeting on Wednesday, October 23, has received cross party support having been seconded by Liberal Democrat Eileen Wragg.

Two other Lib Dem councillors and one Conservative have backed the motion.

Eight of the Independent East Devon Alliance councillors, including leader Paul Arnott, are listed as supporters.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/east-devon-constitution-amendment-tabled-1-6314614

“East Devon leader responds after call for him to resign”

Might more councillors who rushed into “The Independent Group” which Ben Ingham was so very keen to lead, be regretting their choice? If so, interesting times. As Owl has already pointed out, if all other non-Tory and non-TIG councillors came together (Independent, East Devon Alliance, Green and Lub Dem) they would be the majority group …

“East Devon leader Ben Ingham said he will not be ‘stepping aside’ after a former cabinet member called for him to resign.

Writing for this title, Councillor Paul Millar said Cllr Ingham has ‘failed to deliver a workable policy let alone the change people were asking for’.

In response, Cllr Ingham said he will not be stepping down ‘just yet’ and the ruling Independent Group are focused on delivering on its policies ‘including a balanced budget for next year’.

Cllr Millar said: “I call on Ben to do the right thing and step aside to allow someone more in touch with the reality of people’s lives to lead the council.”

In response, Cllr Ingham said: “I won’t be stepping aside just yet.

“There is so much to do and the Independent Group is eager to put our priorities into action.

“This includes preparing a balanced budget for next year.”

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/ben-ingham-response-to-resignation-call-1-6311778

Possible Jurassic National Park for Dorset and ? East Devon

The Glover Report on National Parks and AONBs has just been published.

Disappointingly, there is no good news for the Jurassic Coast in East Devon – the only new national park suggested is in the Chilterns, with a new national forest based on Sherwood Forest and consideration for a new national park in Dorset only – though in a later part of the report East Devon is confusingly listed for consideration with Dorset!

See page 121 and 153 here:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833163/landscapes-review-final-report.pdf

This is in no small part due to the reluctance of the previous administration to support a move to include East Devon, as it did not want to lose control of planning. East Devon Alliance put in a submission to support a national park but it wasn’t enough to sway the report writers.

The report had much to say about enhancing AONBs but it needs the will of local politicians to act on its recommendations.

So, all in all, not the best news for our area.

Colyton: maintenance costs for building the size of a small bungalow more than tripled after NHS Property Services took control – and maintenance reduced!

From the blog of East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw:

Seaton and Colyton Medical Practice have been fighting a long-running battle over rapidly rising charges for the Health Centre. Total maintenance charges rose from £5556 in 2015-16 (the last year before NHS Property Services took over) to £15,422.66 in 2016-17 and £34,657.39 in 2017-18, with the threat of their topping £40,000 this year. As users will realise, these are ludicrous figures for a building the size of a small bungalow, and the Practice is contesting them.

At the same time, actual service under the maintenance contract has been lamentable – the Centre was still without hot water last week after the boiler broke down in June. The Practice has brought the matter to my attention and I have put it on the agenda of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee next Tuesday (pp 87-90).

NHS Property Services is a company set up by the Government to manage the NHS estate, with a mandate to charge commercial rents and, where appropriate, sell ‘surplus’ property. The Health Centre was handed over to the company in 2016, along with our community hospitals, when the RD&E took over our area from the North Devon trust.”

EDDC: political power … could be radically rejigged …

Currently:

Conservatives: 19
Green Party: 2
Independent Group: 19
Independent 1
Independent East Devon Alliance: 11
Liberal Democrats: 8

IF East Devon Alliance, Independent, Green and Lib Dems
formed a coalition they would number 22.

It would then be:
Conservatives 19
The Independent Group 19
Coalition Group 22

The coalition would be the biggest group ……….. and could, if they so wished, bring in a committee system …….

EDDC: the resigned/sacked councillor saga continues…

Owl says: Of course, none of this would be happening if Leader Ingram had been prepared to work with the other independent group – East Devon Alliance (of which he had previously been leader – after being an independent independent – after being a Tory!).

AND it re-ignites the argument: who actually runs the council: councillors or officers? In theory, officers advise, councillors decide …..

“Cllr Paul Millar, who represents the Exmouth Halsdon ward, quit the Independent Group who are in control of East Devon District Council

A blistering attack on East Devon District Council’s management has been launched by a councillor who resigned from group running the council.

Cllr Paul Millar, who represents the Exmouth Halsdon ward, quit the Independent Group on Monday night.

In an email announcing his departure from the group, Cllr Millar said he found working with the Senior Management Team and trying to have any influence over his transformation portfolio to be impossible, that he had no confidence in the senior management, and that the Independent Group has little desire to change anything really at all.

His resignation from the group means that they are no longer the largest party on the council, with both them and the Conservatives having 19 seats each.

In a response, Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, said that he thanked Cllr Millar for his contribution but that the ‘personal and unfounded comments’ do not help advance understanding of the work carried out by East Devon District Council’s officers and councillors.

It is understood that Cllr Millar had been removed from his transformation portfolio role by Cllr Ingham prior to his resignation from the group.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Millar confirmed that he would remain a member of the council and would sit as an Independent not aligned to any group.

He said that he has found local casework immensely fulfilling and this will enable him to concentrate on that and he joked that his contributions to the cabinet wouldn’t be missed as his ideas seemed to be ignored and they didn’t give him anything to do.

In his resignation statement, Cllr Millar said: “Since being elected I have sadly found working with the Senior Management Team and trying to have any influence over my portfolio to be impossible. I was not once asked my view on any matter of policy or given information with which to make any real decision.

“I raised this on a number of occasions, and was sent an email by the Monitoring Officer telling me it is ‘impractical’ for councillors to make even a ‘small fraction’ of decisions.

“Although I’m very new, as a democrat I found this despairing and disappointing as I believe elected representatives are best placed to make decisions in the public interest. We take the blame when things go wrong, so we should have more control, as we’re the ones on the ground.”

Cllr Millar was absent from last Thursday’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting where the service plan objectives for 2019/20 where being evaluated due to illness, but had he attended, he said: “I would’ve struggled to explain what I’d done at the as I’ve not been given any opportunity to make a single major decision. I can only conclude this has been a deliberate action taken by the officer lead for my former portfolio.”

He added that he has no confidence in the current Senior Management and he would like to work with colleagues to at some point submit a motion of no confidence against the Senior Management Team.

He said: “I have become convinced by my short experience and conversations with others across parties that cultural change at the top is required if East Devon District Council is ever to provide a better service, win greater trust among our residents and to have fewer decisions made behind closed doors by officers who are unelected, unaccountable and often I believe show an arrogant contempt towards councillors.”

And he questioned whether the current administration in charge of the council was sustainable for much longer, and his departure means that the Independent Group, which was made up of 20 individual Independent councillors, is no longer the largest group, with the Conservatives also have 19.

He said: “My departure means the ‘Independent Group’ no longer has any majority and as a result to my mind no longer has any mandate to continue as the current administration.

“I will be voting against the Council Plan as I believe it is mostly a load of wishy-washy nonsense written entirely by senior officers, some of whom view our residents merely as “customers” to have money sucked out of, and underestimate the intelligence and ability of elected representatives. In its current form the plan gives the council and the current administration no clear direction of travel.

“Worst of all, I’ve been disappointed that the Independent Group has little desire to change anything really at all. I’ve never been part of a more autocratically-minded institution in my life, and my old Students’ Union was pretty bad.

“The leader and deputy leader have consistently bowed to the SMT (senior management team) in the name of ‘continuity’. It’s been so frustrating and there’s no active feeling that SMT want to work with councillors.”

Cllr Ingham, in response, said he was grateful for the work Cllr Millar had carried out and wished him well for the future.

He added: “It is very unfortunate when individuals resort to personal and unfounded comments. Such attacks do not help us advance understanding of the work carried out by East Devon District Council’s officers and councillors and their respective roles and responsibilities as detailed in the council’s constitution. Rather, they confuse, contribute to rumours and create more harm.”

“However, I am confident that the council offered Cllr Millar a high level of support and assistance to help him try to adjust to the demands of being a Portfolio holder, and I thank him for his contribution.

“On behalf of the council I am very grateful for the work that Cllr Millar has carried out since his election and appointment to the cabinet and wish him well for the future. Looking forwards, though, it is business as usual for East Devon.”

It is understood that Cllr Ingham had sacked Cllr Millar from his role as he failed to take the ‘many chances’ given to ‘show respect to officers and each other at all times’.

Cllr Millar’s resignation leaves the Independent Group and the Conservatives both holding 19 seats on the council. The East Devon Alliance hold 11, the Liberal Democrats eight, the Green Party two, and one Independent.

A meeting of Conservatives members will take place next week to discuss what, if any, moves they plan to make to try and regain control of the council.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/councillor-quits-independent-group-launches-3313607