New coalition bids to take control of East Devon District Council after eight Independents quit ruling party

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) under-fire ruling party faces being overthrown after nearly half of its remaining members quit and joined other groups.

Eight elected community representatives have jumped ship from the Independent Group – with two newly-formed factions now joining forces in a bid to claim power.

The move has been described as ‘profoundly disappointing’ and ‘political games of the highest order’ by the authority’s leader.

The Independent Group took control of EDDC after winning 20 seats in the 2019 local elections. However, just half that number now remain – with eight members announcing they had left in the past fortnight.

Seven councillors have formed a new Independent Progressive Group.

Another has joined the Democratic Alliance which was set up in March and consists of members of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, and a trio of independents.

It means EDDC’s ruling Independent Group now has 10 seats, the Democratic Alliance 24, the Conservatives 19, and the Independent Progressive Group seven.

The Democratic Alliance and Independent Progressive Group have formed a coalition partnership and are seeking to form a new administration.

If successful and with 31 elected representatives, the coalition would have an outright majority on the 60-seat council.

Original members of the Independent Group on East Devon District Council following the local elections in May 2019.

EDDC is set to stage a virtual extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, May 27, when the matter will be considered, with any vote on new leadership is expected to take place on June 4.

Of the eight members to recently leave the Independent Group, Councillor Geoff Jung last week joined the Democratic Alliance,

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.

“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.

“The new Independent Progressive Group has this week formed a coalition partnership with the ‘Democratic Alliance’ and it is hoped that the two groups will work together to form a new ​administration.”

Councillors Jung, Bailey and Armstrong are part of the nine-strong cabinet in charge of the council.

EDDC leader Cllr Ben Ingham has confirmed the trio will remain in place, adding: “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.”

He added: “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, without any further distractions.

“It is always a shame when anything stops something you believe can work and it is profoundly disappointing as a leader because I look back over the last 12 months and I am very pleased with what we achieved as a team.

“Crikey, we set one hell of a council plan for the next few years, and stepped up to the plate on that incredibly quickly. For long-term strategic thinking, we have come up trumps.

“We have been progressive and did some ground-breaking stuff. I am proud of our track record and it will be a great shame if anyone undoes that. I am not sure it would be in the interests of our communities.”

Cllr Ingham said ‘a merger of several groups’ was something ‘no-one voted for just 12 months after an election’, adding: “It is profoundly disappointing.

“If the Democratic Alliance and IPG [Independent Progressive Group] finally organise themselves to work together, there will be ample opportunity for them to take control of East Devon District Council in the next few weeks.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance, said: “The Democratic Alliance and the Independent Progressive Group have signed a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding for a coalition for working forward until 2023.

“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.”

New Democratic Alliance forms to become largest political group on East Devon District Council