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Torbay officers don't have powers to make decisions

Saturday, 22 June 2024 09:54

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Torbay Council (image courtesy: Radio Exe)

Urgent legal advice being sought

Torbay Council is to seek legal advice from a barrister after making a decision which effectively left its officers powerless to do their work.

A meeting of the full council was supposed to agree a motion which delegated powers to officers to do their jobs without having to pass even the most minor matters through a committee of elected councillors.

But the motion was swept away in a bad-tempered meeting during which councillors stood firm behind strict party lines and argued over the political make-up of committees and working parties.

One Conservative left the chamber before the end of the meeting, having been assured the remaining business was just a formality. But that meant one crucial hand was missing when it came to voting on the delegation motion proposed by the Tory administration.

And after an evening when votes on a series of motions were split emphatically down party lines, that one missing vote led to the opposition’s block vote defeating the Tories.

The morning after the meeting, with council officers suddenly unable to do their work, efforts were made to call the council together again to resolve the issue.

But the call for a fresh meeting was made with just two and a half hours’ notice, and some councillors couldn’t be there. The emergency session was then cancelled at the last minute, and is likely to be rescheduled early next week.

It is understood that verbal advice from King’s Counsel – high-ranking barristers who are experts in their field – suggested that the most vital business of the council could continue at the discretion of the chief executive.

It means a crucial planning committee meeting on Monday evening to discuss the time-sensitive £14million Paignton seafront redevelopment is likely to go ahead as planned.

But other things such as the work of the bay’s harbour committee will have to go on hold until the delegation issue is resolved.

Council leader David Thomas (Con, Preston) said that because the issue was a formality, and the same decision had been taken every year for decades, he had not highlighted it during the course of the stormy meeting.

“I was really surprised that it was voted down,” he said. “There was no debate for or against it. Maybe the opposition didn’t realise that the councillor had left.”

If the vote had been tied, as most votes during the meeting were, it would have been decided in favour of the Conservative administration by the mayor’s casting vote, as the others were.

“We are where we are, but we need to get this resolved for the sake of the town,” he said.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Swithin Long (Barton with Watcombe) said it was another example of the council’s current ‘chaos’.

He said discussions before the meeting could have solved the issue, but a meeting of group leaders had been called off.

“Everything could have been resolved if that meeting had gone ahead,” he said. “Other councils seem to be able to co-operate across party lines, but in Torbay that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

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