A bad day for democracy

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 November 2009 | UPDATED: 12:18 10 June 2010

I attended the Devon County Council (DCC) scrutiny committee meeting on October 30 as part of a cross-party and cross-community group supporting the purchase of part of Rolle College to provide extra accommodation for Exmouth Community College. Devon Coun

I attended the Devon County Council (DCC) scrutiny committee meeting on October 30 as part of a cross-party and cross-community group supporting the purchase of part of Rolle College to provide extra accommodation for Exmouth Community College.

Devon County Council had previously decided to help fund this purchase. However, in September the Tory cabinet decided to reverse this decision. The scrutiny committee in question had the authority to instruct the cabinet to reconsider its decision. It had already met on October 8. At this meeting, members of all political parties and community organisations spoke about the lack of consultation and the need to purchase part of Rolle College. However, the scrutiny committee felt unable to make any decision because those central to the decision not to consult and not to purchase part of Rolle College, Cllrs Hart and Channon, failed to attend. Another meeting was scheduled for October 30. A video of the original meeting was available online.

Cllrs Hart and Channon watched this video before attending the meeting on October 30. They heard the reasoned arguments and the strength of feeling of those who disagreed with their decision. They could have reflected on this and engaged with the issue in a calm and thoughtful manner.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. As the meeting began with Cllrs Hart and Channon's backs to the audience, a single sheet of paper was given out to a few, but not all, members of the audience. It contained figures, which, in their opinion, showed that Exmouth Community College did not require extra space. Further papers followed which only went to committee members.

These figures made dubious assumptions about the proportion of pupils who will choose to stay on for post-16 courses in Exmouth Community College. They ignored the fact that pupils from smaller towns near Exmouth choose to take advantage of the breadth of courses offered by a large successful school like Exmouth Community College and travel into Exmouth for their education.

They ignored the fact that many families move to places where there are good schools once their children reach school age. This is known as the chicken run effect and is particularly prominent in Devon. Most importantly of all, the figures assumed that pupils from Exmouth would want to attend schools in Exeter.

Unfortunately, there was no time to check the accuracy of the figures and no time was given for any of the experts who had voiced their views at the previous meeting to speak

In my opinion, it was clear Cllrs Hart and Channon had made their minds up. It also appeared clear they expected the scrutiny committee to accept what they said, despite the fact it is illegal to whip such a committee. Cllr Hart dismissed questions about lack of consultation and gave only cursory replies to others. Cllr Christine Channon blamed everybody from the Government to the previous Lib Dem administration and described the arguments she had heard from the people of Exmouth as sentimental!

Some members of the scrutiny committee commented about poor procedure. Others called for time to check figures or undertake consultation. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. When a vote was called, the scrutiny committee accepted the decision of the cabinet not to help purchase part of Rolle College.

This was a bad day for Exmouth. This was a bad day for democracy and, despite what they may think, it was a bad day for those who, for the moment at least, hold power in Devon.

Gareth Manson,

Labour Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Devon.

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