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East Devon Council integrity row

The Knowle in Sidmouth, EDDC's HQ

Challenge by independents

A motion, submitted by leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Ben Ingham, questioned whether the decision to press ahead with rerouting Queen’s Drive in Exmouth and spending £1.2m on the work, even though Grenadier have yet to officially sign the contract committing them to build a new watersports centre, was taken in accordance with the principles set out in the Council’s Code of Corporate Governance.

But Conservative councillors said that they were outraged by such a motion, and thundered their replies back across the chamber, calling it groundless, empty and mischievous, an insult to all councillors and council staff, and in language of pure vitriol and without any evidence at all.

The motion was defeated and questions were raised whether the fact elections are taking place in May had anything to do with it being brought to council.

Cllr Ingham, proposing his motion said: “The code of conduct says that we should ensure members and officers behave with integrity and lead a culture where acting in the public interest is visibly and consistently demonstrated thereby protecting the reputation of the Council. I would suggest a significant proportion of the Exmouth community think the council puts their own interests above those of the community, seeking to achieve their own ends and sustainability rather than protecting the wellbeing of the community.

“Where Queen’s Drive is concerned, Exmouthians are repeatedly telling me they think it is our officers that are driving the principles and values of the Council and that they are not always the seven principles.

“We should ensure that when working in partnership, arrangements for accountability are clear and the need for wider public accountability has been recognised and met. Some of you may think this Council is meeting those requirements. A significant proportion of the Exmouth community would not agree with you.

“There are certain members for Exmouth that are positively excluded from delivery plans and progress reports as though somehow they are an inconvenience to this council and our officers.

“Just like the current leadership of East Devon, Harold Wilson believed that building houses as fast as possible throughout the countryside would distract people from the fragility of their circumstance and incompetent governance, but in the end he was found out. I suspect the same will happen here, on May 2, 2019.”

Cllr Megan Armstrong added: “Many of the decisions have not been taken with objectivity, integrity, honesty and accountability,” while Cllr Roger Giles said: “We have grave concerns about what provoked this notice of motion as what happened with the decision taken at the October 31 cabinet meeting was far from the way we should be doing things. I thought it was a reckless thing to do on something that requires a legal agreement.”

But Conservatives said that the motion was just dog-whistle politics and they said it was insulting to even be discussed.

Cllr Mark Williamson said: “It uses words like concern, but provides no evidence of it, and this motion is groundless, empty and mischievous and defies both fact and reason. Let us be done with this kind of politics.” He added that the proposed of the motion is a member of the governance committee and he has never raised any concerns through that committee.

Cllr Philip Skinner said: “The motion suggests the council is not taking decisions with objectivity, integrity, honesty and accountability and that is insulting to everyone in this building and all of our officers as well.

“We have done endless consultation with the public and 1,200 people replied to the recent Hemingway Design consultation which takes over 20 minutes to do, which a fantastic result. All of our consultations have engaged with town councillors, district councillors and county councillors on what we are doing and on how, when, where and why.

“We are doing the best for the people of Exmouth and to come here and be I am insulted to be subjected to this kind of politics. I am sick to death of these kind of slanging matches on this council.”

Cllr Brian Bailey said: “All through this process I and every other councillor in Exmouth has been informed on a regular basis, and we have always been told the truth if we ask questions. These allegations are without foundation.”

Cllr Mike Allen added: “There are times when the East Devon Alliance brings up comments in such an objectionable way it becomes an attempt to bring the council into disrepute. They are saying we are not acting with objectivity, integrity, honesty and accountability, but have no action to sit on the appropriate governance committee and make the changes that they recommend.

“The language that has bene used is an attempt to bring the council into disrepute and I would question whether they need to be referred to the standards committee and they are becoming so extreme in the language they are using with no evidence whatsoever, and this needs to be stopped.

“If you want to bring a motion to the council, at least put some substance in it that will create some sensible debate, rather than just pure vitriol.”

And Cllr Tim Dumper, a Liberal Democrat, said that although there has been concerns over the Queen’s Drive regeneration project from Exmouth residents in the past, said he thought this could be dog-whistle politics. He added: “I wonder whether the fact we have an election in five months’ time may have something to do with it.”

In response to the comments of Conservative councillors, Cllr Ingham said: “We are not some kind of revolutionaries and don’t give a damn about the integrity of a political party, as we aren’t members of any party. We aren’t doing this as we fancied being a political figurehead and so joined the Tory party.”

Cllr Ingham’s motion was defeated, with only the Independent Group and two Liberal Democrats voting in favour of it.

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