Independent group loses majority in East Devon after councillor's blistering attack on senior management
PUBLISHED: 12:28 10 September 2019 | UPDATED: 17:55 12 September 2019
An Exmouth councillor has quit the Independent group - prompting the party's majority at the district council to collapse.
In an emotionally-charged email, seen by the Journal, Councillor Paul Millar attacked the senior management team at East Devon District Council (EDDC) for not consulting him on policy decision-making and limiting his influence over his portfolio.
He also criticised current council leader Ben Ingham, and his deputy Susie Bond, for 'bowing' to the senior management team.
Cllr Millar's resignation now means the council is deadlocked at 19 Independents and Conservative members apiece.
Cllr Ingham hit back at Cllr Millar's 'personal and unfounded' comments and said the behaviour of the council's officers is 'exemplary'.
He said: "Such attacks do not help us advance understanding of the work carried out by EDDC's officers and councillors and their respective roles and responsibilities as detailed in the council's constitution.
"Rather, they confuse, contribute to rumours and create more harm."
It was revealed in an email exchange that Cllr Ingham announced he had already removed Cllr Millar from his role as transformation portfolio holder with 'immediate effect' the day before his resignation was announced.
Cllr Ingham said the relationship between the Independent group and EDDC's officers is good, adding: "On behalf of the council I am very grateful for the work that Cllr Millar has carried out since his election and appointment to the Cabinet and wish him well for the future. Looking forwards, though, it is business as usual for East Devon. We wish Paul well and it was his choice to leave the group."
In his email, Cllr Millar said working with the senior management team was 'despairing and disappointing' and called for more control as 'we take the blame when things go wrong'.
Cllr Millar, who represents Exmouth Halsdon on EDDC, said: "I have no confidence in the current senior management at the council… I do not believe the administration in its current form is sustainable for much longer.
"My departure means the 'Independent Group' no longer has any majority and as a result to my mind no longer has any mandate to continue as the current administration."
Cllr Millar said the Independent Group has 'little desire' to change anything, adding: "I have never been part of a more autocratically-minded institution in my life.
"The leader and deputy leader have consistently bowed to the senior management team in the name of 'continuity'.
"It's been so frustrating and there's no active feeling that the senior management team wants to work with councillors."
Cllr Millar's resignation has prompted the question of whether Conservatives will attempt to seize power back from the Independents, or govern alongside them in a coalition.
The party was spectacularly ousted from control at EDDC after 45 years at the elections in May this year.
The changeover mirrored a national trend, which saw more than 1,300 Conservatives lose council seats across the UK.
An East Devon Conservative told the Journal the reason the party did not form a minority administration back in May was because the people had voted and that needed to be respected.
The party member said: "We all know a huge part of that was nothing to do with East Devon.
"The backlash we got on the doorsteps was because of Brexit."
The party member said he does not think another coalition will be formed, as the current make-up of the council is a coalition.
They said: "There are 16 members on the Independent group and three members which are Cranbrook Independents.
"That is the coalition. However, they need the support of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats etc.
"I think setting the budget will be the real big test."
Conservative members will hold a meeting next week to discuss the party's next move.
Cllr Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservatives at EDDC, said: "It is too early to say what we will do.
"This could be the start of more people moving away from the Independent group."