Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Scrutinising the East Devon Business Forum...................... "EDDC will not separate the police investigation from the separate issue of interference in the planning process which was one of the causes of the draft local plan being thrown out."

The last week has seen some dramatic moments in the life of the District Council:
Futures Forum: Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council's CEO's pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF

This has had an immediate effect on the work of the District Council's Overview & Scrutiny Cttee:
Futures Forum: "Scrutiny committee set up to look at the East Devon Business Forum, which Mr Brown chaired, should now reconsider its scope."

And there have been further requests into the very long and sorry process:
Futures Forum: Freedom of Information Requests: Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council's CEO's pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF 

See the final minutes of the EDBF:
Minutes of the Meeting of the East Devon Business Forum - 11 October 2012

and the setting-up of the TAFF into the EDBF:
Committee to investigate East Devon Business Forum - Claire Wright

plus reports into the EDBF's activities:
Planning in East Devon and the East Devon Business Forum
The influence of the East Devon Business Forum on the Local Plan - SOS

and attempts to alter the course of the TAFF:
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo
Task group's agenda changed | Exeter Express and Echo
Response to calls for council boss to quit - News - Exmouth Journal
East Devon District Council cuts grant to business forum after 'banana republic' jibe | Western Morning News

There has been fresh comment today on earlier blog entries of the independent Cllr Claire Wright:

EDDC’s interference in the scrutiny of the former East Devon Business Forum

Sunday, 16 November 2014 5 Comments by Claire

The business scrutiny committee has been in abeyance for months, due to officers refusing to allow us to look into planning matters, following the significant influence that East Devon Business Forum developers and landowners from had on the local plan.Sc

The business forum was funded and administered by EDDC. It was chaired by planning consultant and developer, Graham Brown for several years during his tenure as councillor. It dissolved after EDDC withdrew financial and officer support, following the Daily Telegraph sting.

It became hugely controversial because of the significant influence that its developer-landowner members had on EDDC planning policy, which several of them benefited from considerably, being allowed to build huge extensions to industrial estates, that were contrary to the adopted local plan.

The planning applications from members were very often enthusiastically supported by EDDC’s economic development officer, Nigel Harrison, who was also the business forum’s honorary secretary and someone former Cllr Brown named in the Daily Telegraph article as helpful to him.

The uproar became so loud from residents across East Devon that a special scrutiny committee was set up in September 2012 to look at the influence of the business forum. But it was fraught with delays, interference and baffling problems with agendas. I was a member.

EDDC’s chief executive has now written to all councillors suggesting that I should no longer be a member of this committee, implying that I have a “closed mind.” - see email here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/police_drop_investigation_into_former_cllr_brown_and_eddc_chief_executive_e

Rewinding back to October 2012’s East Devon Business Forum’s minutes, Cllr Brown and his vice chair, Roy Stuart, wrote to the chief executive about the membership of the committee “if it was found to contain members with preconceived ideas about the forum.”

I followed this up and was informed that Messrs Brown and Stuart via economic development manager and honorary secretary, Nigel Harrison, had offered to “elaborate” on the minute, if wished.

I was later informed that the matter of me being a member of the committee was subsequently raised with business scrutiny committee chair, Cllr Graham Troman at a scoping meeting in November 2012.

This wasn’t the only interference in the committee.

I was absolutely amazed at the determination by the chief executive that the committee should not address planning issues. A minute for scoping on looking into the business forum, was agreed at overview and scrutiny in September 2012. But by the time the minutes were published they stated that the scope would simply be about engaging with business!

I kicked up a fuss and at the next overview and scrutiny meeting in October the minute was changed to reflect the correct decision.

But at the first business scrutiny meeting in December, the scope was all about engaging with business again. Completely wrong! So I rewrote the scope ahead of the meeting to reflect the original decision. It was agreed, despite a battle with the chief executive.

But at the February 2013 meeting the agenda was so wildly off course, bland and meaningless that a demonstration was scheduled by furious residents. Fortunately for EDDC snow stopped play and the meeting was cancelled.

There have since been many wrangles and fury over the chief executive’s refusal to allow the committee to discuss planning. And until now the subject has been on ice.

But the sleeping fury is reawakening ......

See previous blog posts about the very turbulent time at EDDC here -

- http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/committee_to_investigate_east_devon_business_forum
- http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/scrutiny_committee_meeting_to_debate_inaccurate_minutes
- http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/business_forum_scrutiny_committee_is_gagged
- http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/what_happened_to_the_edbf_scrutiny_committee
- http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/east_devon_business_forum_scrutiny_appears_to_be_back_on


1. At 01:03 pm on 16th Nov Tim wrote:

What Williams doesn’t want is councillors on that committee who might ask questions or call him and others to account No, what he wants are more like the Tory councillor whose probing really called the police commissioner to account last week.
She asked, if I may paraphrase “What is your proudest achievement”. Need more be said?

2. At 02:28 pm on 16th Nov Tony Green wrote:

At last Thursday’s meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the Chair of the Business TAFF, Cllr Graham Troman expressed his frustration with the delays which have beset his committee.
As Claire suggests some of these at least seem to be due to obstruction.
For example Economic Development Manager Nigel Harrison seems to have been instructed by the Chief Executive not to attend after his poor performance at the initial TAFF meeting. Subsequently, he was unreachable when members of the committee tried to contact him.
On the contrary Mr Harrison’s cooperation with the EDBF was exemplary! He contributed significantly to the Forum’s lobbying of the Council, wrote to planning officers to facilitate a member’s planning problem, and sprang to the defence of Graham Brown when the EDBF Chair was criticised by the then Leader of the Council.
As I suggested in my paper on the EDBF which I sent to councillors in October 2012, this was a very unusual deployment for a senior council officer who was a consultee on major panning applications.

3. At 02:37 pm on 16th Nov Sandra Semple wrote:

EDDC will not separate the police investigation from the separate issue of interference in the planning process which was one of the causes of the draft local plan being thrown out. And it was EDDC Tories who threw Graham Brown out of their party for bringing it into disrepute, not you!

But the last thing they want at Overview and Scrutiny is overview and scrutiny! Goodness me, that would be just awful if the those pulling the levers of power were put under the spotlight!

4. At 12:08 pm on 17th Nov Graham Cooper wrote:

Going back to the Ombudsman criticisms of the “Industry Committee” in 1990, planning in East Devon has had an unfortunate record, particularly since the inception of the East Devon Business Forum. Following excessive amounts of employment land appearing in the local plan, Sidmouth Councillors Hughes and Troman wished to understand how a hideous industrial estate was recommended for Sidford Fields. As he threatened to rock the boat Hughes was dropped as Chairman of the O&S committee and the CEO did all he could to obstruct due-process preventing local residents from getting to the truth. Instead of attempting to restore trust and confidence in EDDC planning, Mark Williams has now chosen to politically intervene by attempting to publically undermine a most dependable and trustworthy member of the TAFF committee. It will be interesting if the planning inspector, after requesting more details on the housing numbers in the local plan will then turn his attention to the employment land figures by requesting evidence on how they were arrived at.

5. At 12:30 pm on 19th Nov Sandra Semple wrote:

It’s a rum do because, in order to show that you have only a predisposition, you need evidence that could change your mind - the one thing that EDDC will not provide. Should you be forced to explain yourself to the Monitoring Officer just this one fact should ensure that the complaint is thrown out! But this is the crazy world of EDDC where common sense is in very short supply and available only to a select few councillors!

EDDC’s interference in the scrutiny of the former East Devon Business Forum - Claire Wright

My role on business scrutiny committee hangs in the balance

Saturday, 15 November 2014 3 Comments by Claire

It was a truly stormy EDDC overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday evening - at least in places - it started at 6.30pm and ended at around 10pm.

The meeting ended with some conservative councillors casting doubt on my suitability to be a member of a business scrutiny committee, following EDDC chief executive, Mark Williams email to all councillors and officers, calling my role into question.


The reason for the lengthy meeting on Thursday evening was largely a very long presentation from Devon and Cornwall’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Hogg, who gave fulsome answers to councillors’ questions.

The evening started off with East Devon Alliance chair, Paul Arnott, launching a stinging attack on EDDC in relation to the now ceased police investigation into the activities of former Feniton councillor, Graham Brown, who was the subject of an undercover sting by the Daily Telegraph in March 2013.

Mr Arnott, compared EDDC’s reaction to the police investigation being wound up, to the current FIFA scandal. His words whizzed through the air like sharpened arrows.

Then it was time for Mr Hogg to talk about his time as our PCC. One of the more notable replies to a question was an astonishing answer to whether police officers have to declare being members of a masonic lodge. No replied Mr Hogg, the masons are regarded as a charity and there is no obligation to declare membership.

He handed over to local police commander for Exeter, East & Mid Devon, Keith Perkin, who explained about the investigation into Cllr Brown. He expressed regret over delays, caused by a referral to Action Fraud in the first instance. Officer Perkin said that the investigation didn’t effectively start for a number of months.

It was, however, passed to the serious and organised crime branch for investigation. It was complex he said and 40 witnesses were interviewed and statements taken.

His report came across as an open and honest appraisal of the situation.

Cllr Roger Giles asked a series of questions about how witnesses were treated by the police, which ended up in much tory heckling and later a demand from the chief executive that Cllr Giles should apologise.

See this account on the East Devon Alliance website here - http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/11/14/councillor-slams-ceo-mark-williams-over-outing-of-witness-in-police-inquiry/

I asked whether they were confident that they had interviewed all the people who had wanted to be heard. I also asked whether any report with recommendations was passed to EDDC, which the chief executive seemed to imply from his statement, which said there were “no actions worth pursuing.”

Officer Perkin confirmed that he would get back to me about these questions, as he was not the investigating officer and would need to check.

Finally, it was quite clear from the reaction of some tory councillors that there is every intention to throw me off the business scrutiny task and finish forum. It won’t be discussed until the next overview and scrutiny meeting in January.

But I was nonetheless accused by Cllr John Humphries of making “false allegations” and Cllr Mike Allen made his own observations of my apparent unsuitability to be a member of the business scrutiny committee.

I suggested that removing me from the committee would send one message to people across East Devon. And this was that the council had something to hide.


1. At 03:48 pm on 16th Nov Joan Kelly wrote:

Hmm something is rotten in the state of Denmark, or should that read EDDC?.

2. At 10:09 pm on 18th Nov HIBOU wrote:

Claire, your comment about freemasonry and the police is unbecoming of you. Freemasonry is a highly ethical organisation whose members promise to abide by the laws. So why shouldn’t policemen be masons? They are there to uphold the law. Masons are also obliged to declare their membership if there is a conflict of interest, but why should they have to declare their membership unless there is that conflict. Rotarians don’t. Members of golf clubs don’t. Members of political parties don’t. Members of religious groups don’t. And there is so much ignorant ( as in unknowledgable) discrimination against masons in public office that I can understand them being unwilling to declare their membership unless there is a conflict of interest. I am proud to be a mason and am quite open about it, but I worked in the private sector - it is an organisation dedicated to making good men better. It is regarded as unethical to use your membership for personal gain, totally against the precepts of freemasonry. And they make significant donations to all sorts of charity works, both national and local. See http://www.ugle.org.uk/ and http://www.supremegrandchapter.org.uk/index.php/news-diary/2013-bicentenary-appeal

3. At 11:47 am on 19th Nov Claire Wright wrote:

Hi Hibou, my point was, admittedly perhaps not made very clearly, that I believe it is wrong that police officers (or in fact anyone in public office) not to be required in law to declare that membership. I am aware that freemasons do a lot of charitable good work. However, there is still a veil of secrecy that hangs over the organisation, with many people believing - rightly or wrongly, that people get ahead in business, or in public life, because of their membership.

Councillors are required to declare if they are masons and my view is that transparency is the only way forward on this. Where there is lack of openness in these sorts of matters, there will always be suspicion - whether justified or not.

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