• Leader of council is evasive over party donations

    11th April 2012 | News | Claire
  • Cllr Diviani was also rather rude and patronising … and he didn’t answer either my written or my supplementary questions.

    My written question was:
    “Given that the Prime Minister has said he will have an inquiry into “cash for policies” will the Leader of the Council, Chairman of the Development Management Committee and Chairman of the East Devon Local Plan Panel be disclosing which developers they have met and whether these developers have made donations to the local, regional or national Conservative party and, if so, how much”.

    The written answer, tabled at this evening’s meeting was as follows:
    “The reference in the question to ‘developers’ is so broad as to make the query meaningless (in that a person seeking planning permission for a dwelling in their garden could be described as a developer). 

    “Furthermore to ascertain whether any person seeking planning permission has made a contribution to the Conservative Party (or indeed any political party) is not something that is realistically within the power of the three positions referred to, to ascertain. 

    “Development management is an area of council work which is and should remain completely neutral of party politics, regulated as it is by the Planning Inspectorate.  In addition, all councillors have had training in good governance – ‘cash for policies’ would be contrary to the Code of Conduct.”

    When the agenda item arose, Cllr Peter Bowden stood up and denounced ‘the person who asked question three’ (me) for not putting their name to it.  He added that it was an offensive question and should not have been put.

    The Chairman (Peter Halse) replied that the lack of identification of me would have been an administrative error, and informed him that it was my question.  Cllr Halse added:  “As you well know.”

    When the time came for my supplementary question I prefaced it with an explanation that I was not casting any aspersions on the three members I had referred to (which I was not).  However, with the current debate at a national level about party donations and access it seemed a reasonable question to ask.

    I went on to describe the written answer as evasion and semantics.  I said I was disappointed that my question had not been treated with the seriousness that it deserved.

    I added that it was pretty clear that I was not referring to people applying for extensions to their kitchens. 

    There was muttering and calls of ‘get to the point’ ‘what is the question’ etc.

    I outlined my question:  “What monitoring takes place to ensure that ALL councillors are following guidance on meetings with developers and declaring gifts or interests?’

    Cue loud groans, muttering and audible whisperings of disapproval.

    Leader, Cllr Diviani got to his feet to respond. 

    He said:  “It may have escaped her notice that we have a Monitoring Officer and a Standards Committee to monitor these issues.

    “I accept her apology but it was weak.  (Had I been apologising? I didn’t think so!)

    “The question should have been directed to the political parties.  Donations are not a matter for the council.

    “We don’t have a Conservative subscription list.

    “The motives behind the question were dubious in the extreme.  (many loud ‘hear hears’)

    “I thought that we as a council were moving forward, this has been political point scoring. (more loud ‘hear hears’)

    Cllr Diviani added that he hoped that there would not be any more questions of this nature in the future.

    There was some other irrelevant stuff in his speech about how many applications there had been over the past year and how many were determined by planning officers, rather than by the planning committee.

    There were lots more loud ‘hear hears’ from the Tory group at the end of Cllr Diviani’s speech.

    What did I make of all this pantomime?  Well firstly, it seemed to me that there was a bit TOO much bluster, a bit TOO much defensiveness and a fair bit of acting up the part of a deeply offended councillor.

    Perhaps I hit a raw nerve?

    And he didn’t answer either of my questions.