Re-branded business forum disbands after councillor row
A heavily criticised business collective in East Devon has disbanded, six months after its disgraced chairman resigned and after members deemed its objectives "unviable".
In July, the East Devon Business Forum announced that it had re-launched in a bid to make a "fresh start" and the first meeting of the East Devon Business Group took place.
But a subsequent meeting to appoint a chairman was cancelled and instead, following a series of meetings over the summer, business community members resolved to disband the group.
The forum was initially set up to "improve communication" between businesses and East Devon District Council, to meet and agree "so far as possible" a common approach.
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But the forum's relationship with the council was criticised by residents and councillors throughout the district due to the perception it had "significant influence over how much land is developed in the area".
A task and finish forum was set up to look into the workings of the forum, branded a "lobby group for developers", and its relationship with the council.
In March, forum chairman and Feniton and Buckerell councillor Graham Brown resigned both posts after he was caught on camera boasting that he could secure planning permission in his role as a planning consultant.
It is not illegal for councillors to work as paid consultants but Mr Brown subsequently became the subject of a police investigation into whether he had committed a criminal offence.
Previously the group received about £5,200 of officer support from the district council, which was withdrawn by council chief executive Mark Williams after the revelations.
Independent auditors scrutinised East Devon District Council's governance procedures and were satisfied with these.
When the East Devon Business Group re-branded it wanted to emphasise the existing premise that all businesses, large and small, were welcome. But members have since decided that it is unviable for a single umbrella group to adequately cater for the needs of such a broad spectrum of businesses.
Group members identified that there are "already in existence several well established and successful organisations that provide help and support to local businesses".
Val Baker, who was acting secretary of the group, explained that the withdrawal of council support did not have significant bearing on the decision to disband and said the catalyst for the review was the issues surrounding Mr Brown.
She added that the larger businesses in the district may decide to form a new organisation.
"Members didn't really think that a 'one size fits all' group was really workable," she added.
"Over the last six months it's become apparent that actually the biggest void is that the bigger businesses don't have an organisation to represent them."