Election season started this week with a meeting in Tavistock for prospective new councillors.
All 31 seats on West Devon Borough Council and all 12 on Horrabridge Parish Council are up for contest on May 2 – results expected May 3.
The Tavistock briefing for would-be councillors included a slide of this darkly humorous painting of The Council Chamber by the Victorian artist Edward Burne-Jones. It might not be as bad as all that, the candidates were told, but it would not always be a joy ride.
There is still a chance, of course, that a national general election will be called for the same day. But so far it is all about very local choices.
Devon County Council does not have any elections to run this year. But Plymouth Council has a third of its seats to be fought over, with possible consequences for this end of Devon. All the other parish councils in West Devon are open to challenge, along with Horrabridge’s. And Totnes-based South Hams District Council, which collaborates with West Devon on many services, also has all its 31 places up for grabs.
Both West Devon and South Hams have a majority of card-carrying Conservatives at the moment but there could be some backlash against the Conservative Party because of the pressure the government has put on local authorities – and the kind of solutions proposed by Conservative councils, such as the dumped hotel scheme in Tavistock and risky investments, now going through, in a new bank, the South West Mutual.
With some councillors retiring and some vulnerable to the ever-shifting preferences of voters, around a third of West Devon’s 31 are likely to be new faces when the new council meets for the first time. Around 100 candidates are expected to compete in the 18 wards.
The local interest for Horrabridge will be in Buckland Monachorum Ward, including Yelverton, and Burrator Ward, including Horrabridge. In the Buckland patch, council leader Philip Sanders, Conservative, and Ric Cheadle, Independent, are defending. For Burrator, the existing team is Horrabridge’s own David Cloke, Independent, and Diana Moyse, Conservative.
Horrabridge Parish Council has nine sitting members and three vacancies. To force an election, more than 12 candidates would have to come forward and get their forms delivered to Tavistock by April 3, which is the first significant deadline. The shape of the elections will not be clear until all legitimate candidates are formally announced the following day. Borough candidates need 10 suitable signatures in their support and parish candidates need two. Nomination packs are available from West Devon or the parish clerk
About 50 contenders for parish or West Devon places attended the briefing meeting in Tavistock on Monday.
They were warned that they would be stepping into a difficult job, with £500,000 to save from the West Devon budget or find from commercial ventures before next April and the same again by 2023.
With reference to councillors’ allowances, Cllr Sanders said: “If you are thinking of doing it for the money, forget it. I can absolutely guarantee that you will lose out.”
The standard expenses allowance is £4,370 a year and the maximum is twice that, but involves a huge commitment of time. The average councillor spends 15-20 hours a week on council business and the leadership takes more like 60 hours, he said.
April 12 is the deadline for getting included on the register of electors if not already there.