Posted: 02.06.20 at 10:49 by Philip Evans
EAST Devon District Council will have to “fight for survival” in the coming years with COVID-19 having already created a large hole in its finances.
That’s the view of Axminster councillor Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservative group on the council.
His comments, contained in a Conservative press release, came after he failed to win the leadership of the 60-strong council at an extraordinary meeting, conducted by video conferencing, on Thursday of last week.
The meeting was adjourned after the live streaming on YouTube was sensationally withdrawn because Conservative councillor Tom Wright (Budleigh-Raleigh Ward) was heard to utter a profanity which he failed to mute. Cllr Wright later apologised to the council for his behaviour.
The meeting was reconvened the following morning to complete the election of independent councillor Paul Arnott (Coly Valley) by a 32-20 majority over Cllr Moulding.
A new leader had to be chosen because the previous holder of the office, Cllr Ben Ingram, and the whole of his cabinet resigned.
The mass resignation came after defections by eight members of the ruling Independent Group – seven to the Independent Progressive Group and one to the Democratic Alliance, a group formed of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and three independents.
After his election was completed at the adjourned meeting, Cllr Arnott, who also serves on Colyton Parish Council, warned Conservative councillors, who lost control of the council after 45 years at last May’s election, that If their interest was working with friends and allies outside the council, then their “time was up”.
In the subsequent press release, Cllr Andrew Moulding. Leader of the Tory Group on EDDC, said: “As Conservatives, we are focusing all our efforts to help reduce the impact of the virus in East Devon, supporting members of our community.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that various factions’ members, elected to EDDC, think it is a good idea to change leadership of the council for no obvious reason, during the COVID-19 crisis.
“My added concern is that this is not for the good of people in East Devon or their best interests, but merely to satisfy personal ambition, until they fall out with each other again and we repeat the whole process once more!
“There is no other conclusion to draw, given those scheming against each other did not present to members of the council, or anyone else, what their plans would be, or how they would be paid for; where there is already a large hole in the council’s finances and the current crisis will inevitably add to that problem.
“The various groups, which form the new council, have no experience of council leadership, nor many other senior council roles, other than pipe dreams, which is far from ideal when experience and strong leadership is required.
“There is certainly no detailed plan on how any changes to plans or services might be costed, paid for, or delivered on behalf of the people of East Devon, from newly appointed Cabinet members who will unnecessarily use up valuable officer time during a national emergency to prepare and deliver them.
“Economic development, building new homes that are desperately needed, or addressing widespread poverty, are big questions which need answering and perhaps most significantly - what services will be cut to pay for them?”
“I put myself forward as an alternative and experienced candidate for the leadership, in order to bring skills acquired over 30 years, in what is likely to be a fight for survival for EDDC in the next few years.
“However, this was not successful. Like members of my group I am a member of the Conservative Party and no one is confused about that. I understand why electors gave us a bloody nose, as elsewhere in England in May 2019, largely and overwhelmingly as a protest against Brexit delays, but those who voted for me are under no illusion as to what issues I stood for at that election, who I represented and that my views have not changed to suit personal circumstances or ambitions.”
The council is due to meet on June 8 to elect a new chairman, a post that was held held by Cllr Stuart Hughes (Conservative, Sidmouth-Sidford) who resigned yesterday claiming the council was “game playing” and he could not support the newly formed Democratic Alliance which was now running the council.
Councillor Moulding is one of the most experienced councillors in Devon. He was first elected to East Devon District Council in 1987 and has been re-elected no fewer than nine times.
As well as holding a number of portfolios over the years he has served as deputy leader, leader and chairman. He also became a member of Devon County Council in 2009 and was elected as chairman in 2013. He has also served on Axminster Town Council and is a former mayor.