The chairman of East Devon District Council (EDDC) has resigned from the role – accusing some members of ‘posturing and game-playing’ at a time of crisis.
Stuart Hughes quit the non-political position this morning (Monday), slamming ‘petty rivalries’ for causing ‘chaos and confusion’ during the coronavirus pandemic.
He said turmoil at the top of the authority – which last week saw its leadership change hands – has ‘seriously undermined the integrity of its day-to-day work’.
Councillor Hughes added that he could not support the coalition now in charge of a council he feels is ‘seemingly set on a deliberate downwards spiral’.
He will remain as a representative for the Sidmouth/Sidford ward.
Cllr Hughes’ resignation comes after EDDC members last Thursday (May 27) voted by 37 to 22 to elect a new chairman and vice-chairman for 2020/21 at a special meeting on June 8.
Cllr Paul Arnott, confirmed as the council’s new leader on Friday (May 28), described the resignation as ‘a relief’.
He has also defended his administration by pointing out steps it has already taken.
In his letter of resignation, Cllr Hughes wrote: “I have very much enjoyed my second term as chairman of EDDC, together with the support of the very professional officers at the council and most members from a variety of political persuasions.
“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.
“This has seriously undermined the integrity and day-to-day work of the council and my role as chairman.”
Cllr Hughes said an accusation that he was responsible for the abandonment of an extraordinary meeting on Thursday was the ‘final straw’.
He added: “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.
“There is no obvious and clear strategy from the Democratic Alliance (including what is left of the Lib Dems and a mixed bag of others) and the new Independent grouping, other than pipedreams.
“I’ve seen no evidence of how changes to plans or services might be costed, and fear council tax will rise across East Devon as the new administration fails to balance ambition with reality.”
Cllr Hughes said: “I have 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.
“Like many other councillors and members of the public, I remain totally in the dark as to how the latest version of a coalition of so-called Independents and others will deal with old and new challenges facing the council, on top of the added burden of Covid-19 on services to residents of East Devon.
“For these reasons, I cannot support an administration with no relevant experience, proven skills or clear and obvious plan.”
Taking on the leadership of EDDC on Friday morning, Cllr Arnott said he had thought about suggesting the chairman should consider his position, but this could wait until June 8.
He told Cllr Hughes: “This entire farce, this entire stress on the democratic services of East Devon, at a time of crisis, which your own party members have not held back on as an excuse to retain you in the chair for an extra year without any constitutional justification, has flown from your own deliberate choice to cancel the annual meeting.
“We have now got five meetings to conduct the business that should have been done by one, which could and should have been done yesterday (Thursday).”
Responding to Cllr Hughes’s resignation comments, Cllr Arnott said this afternoon: “East Devon people must find these graceless political knock-abouts 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.”
He added that a four-person group is also looking at the ‘broad spectrum of finances’.
“The cabinet of 10 has five former cabinet members and an array of highly-experienced people from business and local government,” said Cllr Arnott.
“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’s own Conservative colleagues as the virus swept across Europe in February, and then that leader’s resignation in the last fortnight.”