Posted: 15.05.20 at 18:02 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter
Eight councillors have defected from the Independent Group who were in charge of East Devon District Council and have formed a new group to plan to take control of the council.
Seven of the group have formed a new Independent Progressive Group while the eighth has joined the Democratic Alliance – a group formed of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and now three Independents.
It leaves the Independent Group who run the council with just 10 members, with 24 in the Democratic Alliance, seven in the Independent Progressive Group, and 19 Conservatives.
But the new Independent Progressive Group has this week formed a coalition partnership with the ‘Democratic Alliance’ and the two groups aim to work together to form a new administration
While the Independent Group, led by Cllr Ben Ingham, retain control of the council for the time being, the coalition of the Independent Progressive Group and the Democratic Alliance contains 31 councillors – and therefore they would have an outright majority of the 60 strong council.
They plan to form a new administration to run the council and an Extraordinary Virtual Full Council has been called and is set to take place on Wednesday, May 27, although it is expected that a second meeting on Wednesday, June 4, would be when the vote on the leadership of the council would take place.
Cllr Ingham has called the decision of the eight councillors to leave his group as ‘profoundly disappointing’ and said that it is a shame that during a time of such turmoil for everyone, this is when two political groups in East Devon have decided to play political games of the highest order in order to further their own political ambitions.
Cllr Geoff Jung last week left the Independent Group to join the Democratic Alliance, while Cllrs Nick Hookway, Vicky Johns, Tony McCollum, Kathy McLauchlan, Geoff Pratt, Jess Bailey and Megan Armstrong have formed the Independent Progressive Group.
In a joint statement, the seven said: “We all stood as Independent councillors so that we could make a difference for the people that we represent and feel we will be better able to achieve this by being part of a forward-thinking, more progressive administration.
"We all look forward to continuing doing our utmost for the communities we serve.”
The statement added: “A group of seven Independent councillors, six of whom were newly elected last May, have left the Independent Group because over the course of the year they have realised that they view things differently to some others in the Independent Group.
“The new Independent Progressive Group has this week formed a coalition partnership with the ‘Democratic Alliance’ and it is hoped that the two groups will work together to form a new administration, following an extraordinary council meeting which is expected to be held on June 4.
"The coalition represents a total of thirty one members which would then be the majority in the council.”
Three of the defecting councillors – Cllrs Jung, Bailey and Armstrong – were part of the nine-strong cabinet in charge of the council, but Cllr Ingham confirmed that he had taken the decision to keep them in place and not sack them.
He said: “I decided not to fire them. Geoff Jung done a really good job as a portfolio holder. He has undermined the Group, which I am not happy about, but I certainly couldn’t fire him for lack of effort, and at the moment, as leader of the council, when we have a pandemic across the country and district, continuity is very important and that is what the officers need.
“It is annoying to have these distractions at and I am not convinced that firing three portfolio holders will help.”
Asked why he felt they left the Group, Cllr Ingham said: “I know a number of councillors who left the Independent Group found the work load difficult to cope with, which is why we had decided to work with political parties to form a new administration.
“Unfortunately that was not good enough for them and so they have formed the Progressive Independent Group. I understand they are currently signing a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Democratic Alliance, which will give them overall control of the Council by 31 councillors to 29.
“It is a shame that during a time of such turmoil for everyone, this is when two political groups in East Devon have decided to play political games of the highest order in order to further their own political ambitions. Our officers at East Devon are under considerable strain to support our communities as it is, without any further distractions, but perhaps no one should expect politicians to behave reasonably nowadays.
“It is always a shame when anything stops something you believe can work, and it is profoundly disappointing as a leader because I look back over the last 12 months and I am very pleased with what we achieved as a team. Crikey, we set one hell of a council plan for the next few years, and stepped up to the plate on hat incredibly quickly. For long term strategic thinking, we have come up trumps.
“We have been progressive and did some ground-breaking stuff that makes you think why the Tories didn’t do that. I am proud of our track record and it will be a great shame if anyone undoes that and I am not sure it would be in the interests of our communities.”
On Wednesday, the first virtual meeting of East Devon’s cabinet will take place, with Cllr Ingham saying that all members of his cabinet will as usual be given the free reign to speak for and on whatever they like, and then the following Wednesday will see an extraordinary full council meeting held.
Cllr Ingham said that after the meeting over the future leadership and control of the council the cabinet would be reshaped – either by him if he was still the leader, or by a new leader of the council if they were elected.
He added: “If the Democratic Alliance and IPGs finally organise themselves to work together, there will be ample opportunity for them to take control of East Devon District Council in the next few weeks. They seem to have been plotting and scheming this for a long time so they should be able to work it out.
“The Progressive Independent Group, that’s interesting as they not progressive in my definition at all and are quite regressive, as there is a whole load of things they don’t want which is why they split away. But for an independent group, to sign a memorandum within 10 days with three different political parties, I am not sure how independent that is.
“They have been pretty secretive so far about it and they are putting together a merger of several groups that no-one voted for just 12 months after an election. It is profoundly disappointing.”
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