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East Devon leader attacks Tories' Russian links

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 12:25pm

By Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Paul Arnott leads the East Devon Alliance (courtesy: Paul Arnott)

Conservatives retort he's extreme left-winger

East Devon Tories have released a fiery statement accusing the leader of the district council of having “extremely left-wing views” after he suggested potential funding links between East Devon Conservatives and Russian oligarchs. 

In their letter, they accuse East Devon District Council (EDDC) leader Paul Arnott (Coly Valley), head of the Democratic Alliance Group coalition running the council, of having a “remarkable chip on his shoulder” and of appearing to “believe  that any successful businessman can only have done it through dubious means.”

The response follows a column published by councillor Arnott published by the Exmouth Journal last Sunday [24 May]. 

In the piece, Cllr Arnott referred to a previous article he had written which questioned the fundraising tactics of East Devon Conservatives, saying that former East Devon Tory MP Sir Hugo Swire had a “fondness” for raising party funds “at exclusive auctions from close associates and family of Russian oligarchs.”

In his latest article, Cllr Arnott challenged the East Devon Conservatives to “confirm none of their past local campaigning has drawn on their Russian-sourced HQ funding, and confirm that future elections and campaigns will be wholly free of that dirty money?” 

He also asked them to join him “in an appeal to the PM that all Russian cash in their bulging funding pot is returned.”

The council leader also questioned how the local Tory group had obtained the funding for glossy leaflets and a newly advertised role for a campaign manager.

He added: “In some ways, independents such as me should take this as a compliment. The Tories have obviously lost all confidence in their local ability on the ground to run any kind of campaign.

“Lucky them, though. People like me standing have to raise every penny for leaflets on our own, with a tiny amount of help in my case from my group, the East Devon Alliance, with the odd sign or placard.”

In response, East Devon Conservatives published a blistering statement on Wednesday [27 April] stating they only receive money from membership fees and donations from local residents and local fundraising activities. “There is no national (still less international!) money provided for local Devon campaigns”, they added.

Defending their leafleting campaign and new campaign manager job they said: “East Devon Conservatives more often than not have employed professional campaign staff with money being raised locally and the recent job advertisement is nothing unusual. 

“From time to time, we issue newsletters to residents and not just at election time. We believe residents should be kept informed.”

The rebuttal then goes on the counter-attack, criticising EDDC’s recent decision to double car parking charges in 21 council-run seaside car parks, describing the move as “arrogant and insensitive”. The council also raised fees by 50 per cent in five other ‘prime location’ car parks. 

The council leadership has defended the rise, the first in 12 years, saying it was needed to raise £1.1 million extra a year to help pay for essential public services.

The Tory statement also criticises the council’s leadership for its handling of rent charges for businesses wanting to offer outdoor seating at Exmouth's town centre square, the Strand.

The issue was resolved last month after the council backtracked on its initial proposals, eventually reaching “mutually agreeable rents” between the vendors and the council.

The statement slams the independent group for hiring new council staff “whilst apparently lacking the resources to pay for them” and for spending thousands of pounds on an unpublished Local Government Association report on an employment dispute.

Their announcement concludes: “Being a so-called independent should mean that you are open to working with everyone, yet the mask slips all too often with the East Devon Alliance Party.

“Cllr Arnott would be wise to concentrate his columns on his council’s achievements rather than attack others. We understand that may mean we see fewer of his contributions.”

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