East Devon District Council chairman, Cllr Stuart Hughes, resigns

Cllr Stuart Hughes as chairman of the council. Picture: East Devon District Council

Cllr Stuart Hughes as chairman of the council. Picture: East Devon District Council - Credit: Archant

The chairman of East Devon District Council has resigned from his role, claiming that the current ruling group of councillors have ‘no relevant experience, proven skills or clear and obvious plan.’

Cllr Stuart Hughes confirmed on Monday, June 1 that he has stepped down from his chairmanship role but will remain as a councillor.

Speaking to this title, he said he had ‘thought about it very seriously over the weekend’ and decided to ‘do the decent thing’.

The newly elected leader of EDDC, Councillor Paul Arnott described the resignation as a ‘relief’.

In his resignation letter to EDDC’s chief executive, Mark Williams, Cllr Hughes said he has ‘no wish to continue or be considered for a second term of office as Civic Head of a Council seemingly set on a deliberate downward spiral’.

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He said he had enjoyed his second term as chairman, which is not a political role, with ‘the support of the very professional officers at the council and most members from a variety of political persuasions’.

The letter continues: “Unfortunately, continual posturing and ‘game playing’ by some members of the council on a daily basis during the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in chaos and confusion because of petty rivalries between the EDA (East Devon Alliance) and various Independent members of the council.

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“This has seriously undermined the integrity and day to day work of the council and my role as Chairman.”

“At this time all our efforts should be solely focused on how we can all help reduce the impact of the virus in East Devon whilst protecting our economy, not playing politics between various parties and independent groups to temporarily satisfy a small clique’s personal ambitions.”

Two extraordinary meetings of the full council were held on Thursday, May 28 and Friday, May 29. The second meeting saw Cllr Paul Arnott elected as the new leader of the council following the earlier resignation of Cllr Ben Ingham from the role.

In his acceptance speech he said that the dignified thing for Cllr Hughes to have done would have been to have stepped down from the role and that he came very close to calling for his resignation.

Speaking on Monday, Cllr Arnott said: “It is a relief to see Cllr Hughes leave the chair at East Devon. He took the opportunity provided by a change in legislation by the government to prematurely cancel the annual council meeting, and this decision has predictably created five meetings at a time of crisis to do the same business.

“I have no doubt that he hoped for an outcome where he simply stayed in the chair for a second year, described by his leader last week as ‘the regular term’, wrong constitutionally and undesirable politically.

“He claims to have filled the chair as a ‘civic’ role, but this sweeping statement on his way out parrots Tory press releases.

“East Devon people must find these graceless political knockabouts pretty shameful, and I agree. So here are some facts. The new Cabinet has a new portfolio role dedicated to Covid-19 response and recovery, and this week is filled with meetings to get that going. It has a new portfolio role for Climate Action, essential for environment and economic recovery, and again the unit of four looking at all this is already meeting. It has a four-person unit looking at the broad spectrum of finances, necessary because of the millions of pounds projected black holes left by the outgoing Tories exacerbated by their own government.

“The Cabinet of 10 has five former Cabinet members and an array of highly experienced people from business and local government. And crucially we have a stable majority of 32 who voted for us to take over, following the motion of non-confidence in the last Leader by Cllr Hughes’ own Conservative colleagues as the virus swept across Europe in February, and then that Leader’s resignation in the last fortnight.

“All that said, I wish Cllr Hughes best wishes for his imminent county council campaign and for his unique ongoing work as a local radio disc jockey.”

A meeting will be held on Monday, June 8 to elect a new chairman and vice-chairman for the 2020/21 year.

? The Conservative Group have asked us to point out that they did not bring a motion of no confidence in Cllr Ben Ingham either during his term as Leader of EDDC or at any other time.

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