Councillors attempt political move to take control of EDDC despite pandemic crisis

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council's Honiton headquarters. Picture: Dan WIlkins

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council's Honiton headquarters. Picture: Dan WIlkins - Credit: Archant

Eight councillors, who were in charge of East Devon District Council, have defected from the Independent Group to form a new group to try and take control of the council.

Seven of the group have formed a new Independent Progressive Group while the eighth has joined the Democratic Alliance – a group formed of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal

Democrats, the Green Party, and now three Independents.

It leaves the Independent Group who run the council with just 10 members, 24 members in the Democratic Alliance, seven in the Independent Progressive Group and 19 Conservatives.

But the new Independent Progressive Group has this week formed a coalition partnership with the ‘Democratic Alliance’ and the two groups aim to work together to form a new ​administration.

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While the Independent Group, led by Cllr Ben Ingham, retain control of the council for the time being, the coalition of the Independent Progressive Group and the Democratic Alliance contains 31 councillors – giving them outright majority of the 60-strong council.

They plan to form a new administration and have called for an Extraordinary Virtual Full Council meeting on Wednesday, May 27, although it is expected the leadership vote will take place at a second meeting on Wednesday, June 4.

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Cllr Ingham said their the decision was ‘profoundly disappointing’ and that it was a shame, during a time of such turmoil, that two political groups had decided to ‘play political games of the highest order’ to further their own ambitions.

Cllr Geoff Jung last week left the Independent Group to join the Democratic Alliance, while Cllrs 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.

“A group of seven Independent councillors, six of whom were newly elected last May, have left the Independent Group because over the course of the year they have realised that they view things differently to some others in the Independent Group.”

Three of the defecting councillors – Cllrs Jung, Bailey and Armstrong – were part of the nine-strong cabinet in charge of the council, but Cllr Ingham confirmed that he had taken the decision to keep them in place.

He said: “As leader of the council, when we have a pandemic across the country and district, continuity is very important and that is what the officers need.

“It is annoying to have these distractions at and I am not convinced that firing three portfolio holders will help.

“I know a number of councillors who left the Independent Group found the work load difficult to cope with, which is why we had decided to work with political parties to form a new administration.

“Unfortunately that was not good enough for them and so they have formed the Progressive Independent Group. I understand they are currently signing a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Democratic Alliance, which will give them overall control of the council by 31 councillors to 29.

“It is a shame that during a time of such turmoil for everyone, this is when two political groups in East Devon have decided to play political games of the highest order in order to further their own political ambitions. Our officers at East Devon are under considerable strain to support our communities as it is...

“For an independent group, to sign a memorandum within 10 days with three different political parties, I am not sure how independent that is.

“They have been pretty secretive so far about it and they are putting together a merger of several groups that no-one voted for just 12 months after an election. It is profoundly disappointing.”

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