Dartmouth Town Councillors attack Councillor Hawkins over Council merger

Councillor Fyson

Conflict in the Council Chamber

At last nights Town Council meeting two Councillors were particularly outspoken in their criticism of District Councillor Hawkins role in the recent failed merger between South Hams District Council and West Devon Council. Both Councillor Fyson and Councillor Springett attacked Councillor Hawkins of SHDC over his vote to support the merger of the two District Councils.

Dartmouth Business News believes these criticisms were unreasonable and in fact quite embarrassing. The proposal to merge the councils was based on the central government demand to reduce bureaucratic overhead and thereby save costs. This is aimed at securing the vital services provided by the District Councils for the long term.

Unfortunately only 4% of people in the district engaged in the debate with a high proportion opposing the merger. We believe this was because the District failed to highlight the cost saving advantages of this proposal. Instead pointing out that there would be a rate rise for SHDC residents to bring them in line with West Devon residents. This was clearly a tactical mistake. This engagement level also shows that most residents do not engage with local government processes and are therefore in my opinion prepared to let Councillors do their job.

Councillor Springett

The decision by West Devon Council to reject the proposed merger simply illustrates the cavalier approach they have to financial management which has resulted in their dire financial position. I agree that SHDC did a poor job in selling the merger to their constituents which is a shame. The survey made it look like a done deal which reduced its value and probably put many people off completing it.

I personally found the attack by Cllr Fyson to be particularly arrogant and offensive. Cllr Hawkins voted with his conscience, faced with equal support for both sides of the argument from his parish councils. I believe he was right in his views and the lack of respect shown by Cllr Fyson was both embarrassing and totally unnecessary. Cllr. Springett did at least show his appreciation for Cllr Hawkins attendance.

I also suggest that Dartmouth Town Councillors need to examine their own cavalier approach to financial management with their recent record of expenditure on the Guildhall and planned takeover of liabilities from SHDC.


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  1. An interesting view. However the councillors received a clear mandate to vote against the merger from the survey despite its apparent bias in its questions in favour of the merger, displaying it as a done deal. It seems they chose to ignore that clear mandate, and by ignoring the expressed will of their constituents have left themselves open to having this explained to them at the ballot box.

    Democracy is about understanding that power is delegated to the councillors by the electors and that they need to understand what their electors wish to happen and handle themselves accordingly.

    The support by a parish council for a district council’s motions is invalid. The support of the individual electors is the only thing that counts. That is what real democracy is about.

    Joining the two councils together was simply unacceptable to South Hams electors. It seems West Devon didn’t like the idea much either.

    Now perhaps SHDC can get on with meeting the needs of its customers, the residents and business of the South Hams, and stop fanciful schemes that go nowhere at great cost

    • Actually Tim 4% participation is not convincing and you know what Dartmouth is like, only the negative views ever get aired. The silent majority say nothing. I voted for my Councillor on the basis that he (or she) will use their best efforts to run the Council well. Many other mergers are going ahead because they understand the cost savings long term. We have missed that opportunity and our services long term will suffer as a result. It may take some time but we will see.

      • I expected the 4% to be used as an argument. That 96% said nothing is simply interesting. I do know what Dartmouth is like, but I dispute the fact that only negative views get aired. If one says that often enough then it takes on a life of its own, like Mr Trump’s Fake News, or Mr Johnson’s £350 squillion a week going to the NHS if we leave the EU.

        4% made their views abundantly clear. It requires an educated statistician to determine whether that is a statistically significant sample. I suspect that is neither you nor me.

        It was, however, the only mandate they got.

        Would we still be leaving the EU if the turnout had been 4% and the voting split has been the same? I suspect we would

        If our councillors could not state the putative savings in a manner that attracted the electorate one should ask, instead, why they believe that they are suitable for office. If there was a true opportunity there then it should have been shouted for the rooftops, and our award winning Town Crier been engaged to put the message across. Ok, perhaps that is a step too far.

        The major problem is that we, constrained, too, by central government, pay too little for our services. This is exemplified by all the cuts that may or may not have pulled the nation out of the self created financial crisis. We need to bite the taxation bullet and pay for the services we wish to receive.

        SHDC has streamlined based upon the assumption that it was to merge with West Devon. That was a foolishness, based upon assumptions of success. That set of assumptions in itself will have contributed to those who answered the survey saying no. I know it contributed to my own answers.

        Our councillors needed to listen to their electorate. Yes, listening to the silence, too. That silence proved that the message had not got across, or, that which had got across had turned people off from contributing.

  2. increasing taxes is a disincentive for growth of both business startups and individuals. We are living beyond our means and need to be strong in mamnaging our finances. Even though we are cutting costs employment is at record levels. That is the best way to increase tax income.
    I dont blame SHDC for trying to save costs but I do blame them for failing to sell the merger to the electorate. Sadly typical of the west country which has a big blind spot where marketing communications should be. Have you heard anything about Mayflower 400 Dartmouth lately? sadly another marketing communications failure.

    • There comes a point with taxation, disincentive or not, when it is too low. There is a minimum level below which the district, the county, and the nation cannot function. The political dogma of low taxation is great up to, but not beyond, that point. When we cannot afford national services like the NHS, local services like Dartmouth Hospital, simple services like returning to the excellent street cleaning of previous years, then there is something wrong. For the avoidance of doubt I am not criticising the folk who do the cleaning but their masters who dictate what they may and may not do.

      There are many things we do poorly. Love or hate the concept of the Business Improvement District, once voted for people should have striven to make it a success. The concept arrived by democratic process, and could have made a major difference. The Mayflower celebrations I have heard very little about, save for some tree planting said to be taking place. I don’t want to dilute the SHDC issue by going off on one regarding th M400 opportunity.

      It is right to criticise councillors. Not only is it right to do so, it is proper to do so. I wonder whether it is right for Town Councillors to use a council session to criticise District Councillors, however strongly they may feel as individuals. I expect our Town Council to be concerned with the direct matters of our town. Where these intersect with the District Council then DTC may create policy, well argued, well presented. But individuals using the forum to criticise the District Councillors is not playing the game. I agree with the criticism, as reported by you (I did not hear what was said), but I disagree with the mode and forum of its delivery.

  3. Not sure that the person on the the Clapham omnibus fully understood the argument and its ramifications either way or perhaps it’s just me.

    • I think we are all still waiting to hear with precision with why it is a bad idea that the councils remain separate, and why our elected representatives failed to tell us so in clear and simple terms, Michael

      I join you on that veritable omnibus in not having been given the information on which to base a decision other than “No! This merger shall not come to pass!”. Forgive me if I appear to make assumptions about your own position in the matter.

      While our councillors are often excellent, in this matter they have fallen short, both in the ‘explain this to the electorate’ department and in the ‘following the mandate they sought by dint of survey’ department.

        • From that, Paul, I think we can conclude that SHDC did not actually want the merger, or, worse, had not done correct due diligence and quantified those putative savings. Presenting a cost with no benefit is the surest way to have the survey go against taking the hit with the extra cost.

          Perhaps we need to return to “Our our elected councillors fit for purpose?”

          Did the bunch, mainly conservative, that voted for the merger actually know something no-one else did? Or was this a party political point made by them?

          If they knew, why did they not campaign correctly for it?

          More than that, if these putative savings are real, and a huge benefit, why did they require a costly survey process?

          And, if these savings are real, why was SHDC expected to pay through the nose to obtain them? Our services were not about to improve but our council tax was to rise.

          And why did West Devon run away? If those savings were real they would have run towards the merger.

          No, something is very perturbing about all of this. I suggest that the electorate who chose to express an opinion saw through it.

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