District Council elects new Chair & Vice Chair marking real change

On 8 June the District Council held a virtual Full Council meeting to elect a new Chair and Vice Chair of Council. This date had previously been agreed upon at an earlier virtual Full Council meeting that was held on 28 May.

Despite this date to elect a Chair and Vice Chair had been well publicised much in advance to Councillors, sadly only 43 attended from the comfort of their own homes via the handy facility that the internet provides which allows the Council to hold virtual meetings.

With the incumbent Chair, Stuart Hughes (Conservative), having resigned in the lead up to the meeting, the post of Chair looked as if it was wide open for nominations.

In the event there was only one nomination for the post of Chair of Council, that of Cathy Gardner (Democratic Alliance). Despite there only being one nomination each of us Councillors had to vote whether or not we accepted Cathy to fulfil this role.

It was interesting that the 5 Conservative Councillors who were in attendance at this meeting all appeared to be following a party line and each one abstained from voting, whilst the remaining 38 Councillors representing the Democratic Alliance, Independent Progressives, The Independents, Cranbrook Voice and an Independent all voted in her favour. Cathy was duly elected with 38 votes in favour, none against and 5 abstentions.

A similar pattern of voting followed when the incumbent Vice Chair of Council, Val Ranger (Democratic Alliance), was the only nomination received for that post. In this vote a Conservative Councillor broke ranks with the rest of his Group and voted in favour of Val allowing her to be elected with 39 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions.

It really does make me wonder whether the Conservative Group on the Council, which consists of 20 Councillors now that the previous Leader of the Council who was elected as an Independent has joined their ranks, took a decision to boycott the meeting or perhaps all 15 of them were unavoidably detained elsewhere. It just seems a bit odd that so many of them weren’t able to participate in the internal democratic processes of the Council.

It is really pleasing that the Council is now represented in its 4 most senior elected Member level by 3 women in the roles of Deputy Leader, Chair and Vice Chair of Council. This is a first for East Devon and signifies a real change, and most pleasing is the fact that this wasn’t tokenism, it was electing the right and best Councillors to do the jobs.

Further Covid related grants available from the District Council

East Devon District Council has already distributed over £40m of government mandatory Covid related grants to some 3,500 local businesses. This has been to give some element of financial support to assist businesses in these difficult trading times.

A number of businesses were not covered by this initial grant and the government has now provided the District Council with a further £2.4m discretionary grant. Whilst this might sound like a lot of money, when you consider the number of predominantly smaller business locally that are losing income due to the Covid crisis, this will be a bit like spreading jam thinly over bread.

There is a short application period for businesses which meet this discretionary grant’s criteria to submit an application.

The main businesses that will benefit from this fund, must have been trading on 11 March, and include –

  • Small businesses in shared offices or other flexible workspaces;
  • Regular market traders;
  • Bed & breakfasts that pay Council Tax;
  • Charity properties in receipt of charitable relief;
  • Businesses within the retail, hospitality & leisure sector or who predominately supply this sector;
  • Language schools.

If you think your business might meet the criteria to receive a discretionary grant check out the District Council website as soon as possible as applications have to be received by no later than 24 June –

https://eastdevon.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/businesses-employers-and-employees/discretionary-business-grant-support/

New District Council administration formed

Whilst a new administration has now been voted in to run East Devon District Council, the bad language and behavior of some Conservative Councillors, led to a delay of some 15 hours in the election meeting being concluded.

At last year’s District Council elections, the voters of East Devon ended 47 years of consecutive Conservative rule by electing a majority of non-Conservative Councillors. Unfortunately, no single grouping of Councillors was able to form a majority Administration.

A group “The Independent Group” which last May had the largest number of Councillors in its grouping, was able last may to be elected to run the Council. This grouping consisted of Councillors who stood as Independents in the election. They had nothing broader than this to bind them together. They had no collective set of objectives or values. None the less they were the largest grouping and were given the responsibility to run the Council.

Over the past year The Independent Group administration has fallen apart which given it had no real collective vision was in some ways not a surprise. Equally, as this grouping of Councillors had not anticipated being thrown together to lead the Council it was unsurprising that they struggled to maintain unity of purpose.

After nearly five decades of single party dominance in East Devon, for others to take time to work out how to work together across their wide political spectrum is understandable.

Many Councillors, including myself, who were outside of both the Conservative Party and The Independent Group, were unhappy as the months rolled on at how business was being done and the priorities that both groupings were seemingly supporting.

At the same time some disquiet within the ruling Independent Group started to bubble to the surface and various other groupings – East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Greens and several Independent Councillors – started to discuss the possibility of abroad coalition being formed with the objective of seeking to attract the majority of Councillors, which would be 31 or more, with a common set of values, as well as social and political objectives.

This broad coalition initially was formed of 24 Councillors into the Democratic Alliance which included 12 East Devon Alliance, 8 Liberal Democrat, 2 Green and 2 Independent Councillors. A group of 7 Councillors then decided to leave The Independent Group and to form the Independent Progressives and to align themselves with the Democratic Alliance to achieve a working majority on the Council.

All of this left the still ruling Independent Group with only 10 Councillors and the Conservative group with 19. Having a ruling group of only 10 out of the total 60 Councillors was clearly untenable and therefore on 18 May the Leader, Ben Ingham, and his Cabinet resigned. As I write the Independent Group now only consists of 6 Councillors.

On 28 May at a virtual Council meeting a vote was taken as to who should become the new Leader of the council and form the next administration. A new majority administration – formed by the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressives – was elected. This new administration, led by Paul Arnott received 32 votes, whilst the Conservative Party, led by Andrew Moulding received 20 votes and 8 Councillors abstained from voting.

The new Leader of the Council, Paul Arnott has now announced his key appointments, and I am pleased to have been asked to serve as the number two in the Finance Portfolio. It’s going to be a tough time ahead for this Council and this new administration on many fronts, not least the financial one as the Council’s income has plummeted during the Covid 19 lockdown period.

This will make for a really big challenge in order to not only balance the books in this 2020/21 financial year, but also over the medium term of the next few years. It doesn’t take a financial genius to recognise that some very tough financial decisions are going to have to be taken whilst still trying to maintain and deliver quality services that residents rightly expect.

I cannot leave this story without reporting on the problems that the Council, its Officers, Councillors and members of the public who were following the 28 May online Council meeting faced. Officers did a great job in corralling and keeping all 60 Councillors linked in on line via Zoom to hold the meeting to elect the new Leader and his key appointments.

Throughout the meeting the demeanour of some of our Conservative colleagues had been less than positive. When it came to each of us in turn having to say whether we supported Paul Arnott or Andrew Moulding for Leader various Councillors could be heard to mutter disapprovingly of the way some others were voting.

Indeed, several Councillors could occasionally be heard uttering swear words and indeed as we got to the point where the 58th Councillor was asked for their vote the YouTube live feed to the public was cut off by YouTube. As a Councillor at this point swore, and as this violated the terms upon which YouTube allow the feed to be broadcast the feed was cut and the meeting had to be halted.

Although at the point where the meeting had to be suspended it was clear that Paul Arnott had sufficient votes to be declared the new Leader of the Council, this was not possible until all Councillors present had been allowed to exercise their votes. After much effort by Officers, it became apparent why the live feed had been cut and so the meeting was temporarily suspended, thus requiring everyone to reconvene on 29 May to allow the final three Councillors to cast their votes and finally for Paul Arnott to be declared the new Leader and to then announce his key appointments.

I find it incredibly disappointing that my colleagues within the Conservative Party have expressed faux annoyance at the fact that those of us in the democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressives sought to legitimise our majority and to establish a new administration at a time when usually face to face Annual meeting of the Council would allow us to have a vote upon who should lead the Council for the next year.

They cynically chose to hid behind Covid 19 as an excuse for not holding a virtual Annual Council meeting despite councils being allowed to use virtual meetings to conduct business. Indeed, I am more than disappointed at the way in which the Conservative group argued that holding a meeting to virtually elect a new Leader would be to divert the Council’s attention and resources from the challenges of Covid 19.

Indeed, all of the unpleasantness that some of the Conservative group displayed at the virtual meeting on 28 May, as well as the unprofessional and inappropriate use of swear words in the meeting, which led to the meeting having to be abandoned and reconvened, place far more strain and waste of time and resources on the Council, its Officers and its Members, than actually holding a meeting to ensure democracy carried on during Covid 19.

So, as the new administration starts to get to grips with improving and delivering quality services to residents, I am mindful, particularly as I have now been appointed to the number two financial role, of the significant challenge facing the Council as its income has been sorely hit as a result of Covid 19. It will make for some tough challenges ahead.

I hope that as we move forward my Conservative colleagues will stop playing political games and start to behave as the experienced professionals they claim to be, but fail to demonstrate by their often-puerile actions. Its time for them to get behind the new administration and to support us as we try to meet the real challenges facing this Council and its residents.

East Devon District Council’s advice on having a bonfire

East Devon District Council is regularly updating its advice to residents on its services and what we all should be doing during the coronavirus difficulties. Its worth keeping an eye on this advice at https://eastdevon.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/latest-updates/east-devon-district-council-latest-coronavirus-updates/

Many residents with gardens are making use of them now the weather has turned nice. As gardens are tidied up and whilst the District Council’s green waste service has been suspended to allow resources to be directed to keeping the recycling and landfill waste collections going, many residents are considering burning their garden waste.

Bonfires can cause annoyance and aggravate some people’s health conditions, so please take a look at the District Council’s updated advice on bonfires https://eastdevon.gov.uk/environmental-health-and-wellbeing/land-air-and-water-pollution/bonfires-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/ the introduction to which starts –

Bonfires during the Coronavirus outbreak

Please avoid having any bonfires whilst the Coronavirus controls are in place if smoke or smell from them might affect neighbours or aggravate any health conditions.

Cut up your woody garden waste and store it somewhere safe to dry out for the next few months.

Never burn garden waste that is still green or recently cut, and never burn any other household waste.

Sidmouth Town Council COVID-19 Community Resources Leaflet

Sidmouth Town council has responded swiftly to the coronavirus difficulties we are all facing and has produced highlighting some of the key community resources available for residents in Sidmouth and the wider Sid Valley.

The leaflet is in the process of being delivered door to door by over 100 volunteers. Many of you will already have received yours. Below is a link to the leaflet.

Whilst much of the leaflet is taken up with providing information about which local small businesses will deliver food and groceries, it also highlights community groups which can offer support and assistance to those who are isolated and required to stay at home continually.

Please also do your bit by looking out for friends and neighbours who need help, assistance or just a friendly word (from a distance!). If needed you can cut out and post through a neighbour’s door a postcard which gives them your contact details. But please, don’t put yourself or others at risk whenever you try to be a good neighbour.

Stay safe

Red Lion supporting the village

Here in Sidbury we are lucky to not only have a local village butchers/shop, but also a vibrant and well frequented pub, the Red Lion.

As the landlord and landlady, Richard and Bib, enter uncertain times they are offering their good food as take aways. So if you live locally, please support them by ordering their take away food which they can deliver.

We need to support our local businesses to try and ensure that they survive all that the coronavirus throws at them.

Sidbury Coronavirus Support

Arrangements to support residents across Sidbury, as we enter a more difficult time as the coronavirus restrictions on our daily lives, are about to be explained in a leaflet that will be delivered shortly door to door across the village.

The leaflet says – Sidbury Coronavirus Support

As a result of the coronavirus some people in the village will find themselves unable or unwilling to leave their homes or go to the shops.

Our village shop, Drews of Sidbury, are offering anyone in that situation to take their shopping order over the telephone and to deliver it directly to their doorstep.

Volunteers are needed to help with the deliveries. Please let Drews know if you are willing to help with making deliveries in the village.

If you have any neighbours who you think may have to shut themselves away at home and who might need help or assistance during these difficult times, please do the neighbourly thing, and keep in regular contact with them.

Local contact points –

Drews of Sidbury 

Tel: 01395 597373

St Giles Church, Sidbury (Pam Ward)

Tel: 01395 597691

Beacon Medical Centre or Blackmore Health Centre   

Tel: 01395 512601

NHS Coronavirus Contact Line

Tel: 111

Please remember –

Wash your hands regularly

If you think you have coronavirus symptoms, then self-isolate

Don’t put your health or that of others at risk when being a good neighbour, but if you can, help those in need

Shop responsibly & locally

The UK’s large supermarket chains have issued a plea to everyone to shop responsibly in order to allow the supply chain to continue to operate effectively.

This is an unprecedented statement from our largest grocery and provision suppliers and one that we all need to take notice of.

The coronavirus difficulties appear to be set to play out for many months and so we need to help the supermarkets maintain effective and regular supply chains to keep our supermarket shelves stocked.

Please listen to those who are working to keep our supermarket shelves stocked and supplying us with our daily requirements.

Drews of Sidbury are offering to make home deliveries to allow those who are unable to leave their homes due to either Coronavius illness or having to self-isolate.

Anyone wanting to request the use of this home delivery service should telephone Drews on 01395 587373.

If you know of anyone in the village and the surrounding area who is facing difficulties in getting out to the shops please be a good friend/neighbour and check up on them, where you can offer to help them with their shopping and pass on Drews’ kind offer and their phone number.

Finally, we are all being asked to shop responsibly and not to add to what is likely to be delivery difficulties for shops by bulk/panic buying. The more we try to shop as we normally do the less strain there will be in keeping shop shelves stocked.

Take care out there.