Pre-meeting deal leaves Tories out in the cold
INDEPENDENT members have done a deal with the Lib Dems to take control of North Devon Council.
The Conservative group, which has the greatest number of councillors, was left on the sidelines at the annual council meeting in Barnstaple last week.
Brian Greenslade, a Lib Dem, was elected council leader.
His deputy will be Rodney Cann, a Tory-turned-independent.
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The decision-making executive will contain five Lib Dems (Brian Greenslade, Mair Manuel, Colin Payne, Derrick Spear, Faye Webber) and four independents (Rodney Cann, Mike Edmunds, Malcolm Prowse, Yvette Gubb).
The Conservative group refused to put forward a candidate to chair the overview and scrutiny committee, which exists to provide checks and balances to the executive.
As a result, independent Frank Biederman was elected chairman.
A co-operation agreement had been signed by the Lib Dems and independents before the meeting.
The agreement stated no member was bound to agree on every matter, but would tell other members of the coalition in advance if they intended to disagree.
The coalition has seven policy priorities: affordable housing; environment; economic regeneration; building capacity with partners; reduce overheads; make the council more visible; set up a procedures working party.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Greenslade said the agreement showed there was a "clear idea" of what the administration wanted to do.
He emphasised an "open door policy", where the public could share ideas with councillors.
Mr Cann said he had offered to make a deal with the Conservatives, giving them one seat on an independent-dominated executive, but they had refused.
He mentioned concerns about a potential "budget gap" and unwanted housing developments and said: "We intend to hit the ground running."
Malcolm Prowse, a veteran Lib Dem who was elected as an independent, said: "What I would stress is this is not about jobs. It's about an agenda."
Tory group leader Des Brailey said he would have been willing to join a coalition with the Lib Dems but they refused his offer.
He said the independents appeared to be fragmented.
Asked why his group had refused to chair overview and scrutiny, he said: "It isn't about sour grapes.
"It's about our belief that we held overview and scrutiny when we were in charge and it would be wrong to say we were wrong.
"We are happy for them to have overview and scrutiny. I will hold them to account as the leader of the largest group on the council."
There are three independent groups.
One is called New Wave, and contains Rodney Cann, Frank Biederman, Joanne Bell, and Brian Hockin, all of whom represent Fremington, Bickington or Roundswell.
The second is called North Devon First, and contains Malcolm Prowse, Julia Clark and Yvette Gubb.
The third is just called Independent Group, and contains Mike Edmunds, Walter White, and Eric Ley.
South Molton member John Moore is "non-aligned".
The Tories, who had been in control since the 2007 election, following 17 years of Lib Dem dominance, won the greatest number of seats at the May election – but not enough to form an administration.
Until the election there were 22 Conservatives, 17 Lib Dems, three independents, and one non-aligned.
After the poll, there were 18 Conservatives (four fewer), 14 Lib Dems (three fewer), and 11 independents (seven more).
Lib Dem councillors will chair the licensing, audit and personnel committees while an independent will chair planning.