• EDDC cuts grant to business forum after ‘banana republic’ jibe

    20th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • A Tory council branded a “banana republic” by critics has severed links with the controversial business group led by under-investigation “councillor for hire” Graham Brown.
    East Devon District Council has cut its £5,200 annual grant to the East Devon Business Forum, which is to consider whether to disband at a meeting tomorrow.

    Mr Brown has been referred by the council to a police fraud hotline over his claimed access to top officials and ability to win planning permission.

    The forum he once led remains the subject of a task force investigation after alleged links of undue influence on council policy. Chief executive Mark Williams has ended the funding amid mounting criticism but now he also faces calls to resign.

    Sidmouth campaigner Tony Green, author of a dossier on the forum’s activities, said the furore over planning had left East Devon looking like “a sort of banana republic” amid allegations that developers could buy planning permission. He claimed EDBF was a “minefield of conflicts of interest” and said he believed Mr Williams’ inaction in the face of numerous warnings was “a serious failure of responsibility”.
    “It is surprising the council should have agreed to fund an organisation that acted as a lobby group for big landowners and developers, he added.
    “(Mr Williams) has lost all credibility and should go.”

    A Task and Finish Forum (TAFF) was set up to consider links between the forum and the council last year.

    Critics have subsequently accused the council of “muzzling” the committee by curtailing its remit, specifically with regard to planning applications.

    Mr Brown, who owns the Grey Green planning consultancy business, resigned as ward member for Feniton and Buckerell and as the chairman of the forum after he was secretly filmed declaring he could secure planning consents for a fee of up to £20,000.

    However, he has vowed to clear his name of any wrongdoing and maintains that he did not believe there was a conflict of interest between his professional work and his role as a councillor.
    The council has said

    In a statement, it said it was “not aware of any improper influence” on planning.

    Roy Stuart, forum vice chairman, has called for members to decide whether to disband the group or continue with an amended constitution.

    A council spokesman, said: “The chief executive decided that in light of the issues being raised about the forum, it would be fruitless to commit any additional support to the joint body until further notice.
    “The funding does not take the form of a cash grant. It is there to cover the costs of officer time (secretary and minute-taker) and the cost of using meeting space at the East Devon Business Centre, which the council owns.”

    A police spokesman confirmed that the subject of Mr Brown’s comments had been referred by the council to the hotline Action Fraud but there is no live investigation into whether Mr Brown had acted illegally.