East Devon District Council (EDDC) Ben Ingham and his cabinet of Independent Group colleagues have resigned from their roles with immediate effect.
Councillor Ingham announced he was stepping down this morning (Monday).
A meeting of the council will now be called to decide on a new administration.
EDDC’s under-fire ruling party had faced being overthrown after nearly half of its remaining members quit and joined other groups.
Eight elected community representatives jumped ship from the Independent Group – with two newly-formed factions joining forces in a bid to claim power.
In resigning, Cllr Ingham said today: “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 further statement from the Independent Group added: “The May 2019 East Devon District Council elections saw an end to 45 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 Cllr 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.”
The Independent Group took control of EDDC after winning 20 seats in the 2019 local elections. However, just half that number remain – with eight members announcing they had left in the past fortnight.
Seven councillors formed a new Independent Progressive Group.
Another 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.
The Independent Group 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 were seeking to form a new administration.
With 31 elected representatives, the coalition would have an outright majority on the 60-seat council.