Posted: 20.05.20 at 12:04 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter
A new leader of East Devon District Council will be elected at an extraordinary full council meeting to be held next Thursday.
The meeting has been called following the resignation from the leadership position of councillor Ben Ingham on Monday, as well as the entirety of his cabinet from their positions.
It follows defections last week by eight members of the ruling Independent Group – one to the Democratic Alliance, a group formed of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and now three Independents, and seven to the Independent Progressive Group.
Those two groups have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together and as they consist of 31 of the 60 members of the council, have enough to form an overall majority.
An extraordinary council meeting was due to be held next Wednesday, May 27, in order to debate whether a meeting on June 4 was required to elect the positions of Leader of the Council, but that meeting has been cancelled.
Instead, a single item meeting will take place on May 28 at 5.30pm to elect a new Leader of the Council for the remainder of the civic year and that council receive the Leader’s appointments of the Deputy Leader and the Cabinet and their Portfolios.
Preceding that meeting will be an extraordinary meeting at 5pm in which the only item is a motion on whether the Council should hold an Extraordinary General Meeting on June 8 at 6pm to elect the positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Council.
The meeting of the Cabinet that was due to be held today (Wednesday, May 20), has been cancelled following the resignation of councillor Ingham and the cabinet.
The meeting was due to agree the response to the Newton Poppleford and Harpford Neighbourhood Plan, receive the minutes and recommendations from the Arts and Culture Forum, Scrutiny Committee, and Overview Committees held prior to the lock down, and discuss in private the budget position as a result of COVID-19 the council faces, which was understood to potentially include redundancies.
In resigning, councillor Ingham said: “Since being elected unanimously as Leader of East Devon District Council, with the support of the Independent Group I have done my very best to make our council as fit to serve our communities as possible.
“We created a superb four year council plan that our officers have committed to on such a scale that East Devon District Council received the platinum award for Investors in People, something only a very select number of other councils in the country have achieved. That tells me we were on track.
“Strategically we have planned for the long term interests of East Devon and our communities. So I am sorry to see us forced to stop so soon. I believe the vast majority of people in East Devon will approve of what we have planned and what we have achieved on their behalf. I thank all of our officers for their support and exemplary conduct during this COVID-19 pandemic. They are a credit to all of us who live in East Devon.”
A statement from the Independent Group added: “The May 2019 East Devon District Council elections saw an end to forty-five years of Conservative majority leadership. Three broadly equal political groups meant that to form an administration was always going to be challenging, a task accepted by the Independent Group, under Leader councillor Ben Ingham.
“One year later, the balance has changed. The Independent East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Independent Progressive Group have come together to form the Democratic Alliance, capable of delivering an overall majority of Members in the Council and gaining the right to form the administration.
“It is therefore time for the leadership team of the Independent Group to step aside. Our whole Cabinet is dissolved with immediate effect. Whilst the unique circumstances of an active COVID-19 pandemic are hardly an ideal time for a leadership change, we will ensure this change takes place in a manner which minimises any risk to service provision, disruption to our Officer colleagues, local authority and private sector partners, East Devon residents and businesses, by taking a clear and decisive step without delay.
“Current Independent Group Cabinet Portfolio Holders, and Committee Chairs have all personally committed to ensure their successors in the new Democratic Alliance administration receive a full and comprehensive handover of responsibilities.
“The Independent Group would like to thank all who have supported us during the last year and commit to maintaining a full and active part in the future of East Devon District Council.”
Councillor Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance, on Sunday had confirmed that the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressive Group had signed a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding for a coalition for working forward until 2023.
He added: “We believe there is a secure core of 31 and with more support from the chamber elsewhere, we can at last deliver the majority administration which has been lacking since May 2019.
“While the pandemic crisis has begun, it is likely to run one way or another for at least a year, and this will give us a coherent leadership as we endure the rest of the crisis and make plans to come out of it, so we truly believe that this will be in the public interest.”
Councillor Geoff Jung last week left the Independent Group to join the Democratic Alliance, while councillors 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 council consists of 31 members of the Democratic Alliance/Independent Progressive Group, 19 Conservatives, and 10 Independents.