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Corruption at East Devon: ten years on from the Cllr Brown scandal

  • by JW

Can local government learn from Ukraine’s planning system, “implementing the highest standards of transparency, and accountability”? [DREAM – Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management]



The UK is not generally seen as a ‘corrupt’ country – but nevertheless, this year it was considered one of 9 countries to watch on the Corruption Perceptions Index. On the other hand, back in 2016, it was declared that the UK is the most corrupt country in the world, according to mafia expert Roberto Saviano.

Although these perceptions were being measured largely at the level of central government, in another report [now ten years old] Transparency International looked at the mounting risks of Corruption in the UK Local Government. In an update from a couple of years ago, it was found that half of councils face ‘corruption risk’ on planning and the latest this year again talks of the mounting risks of corruption in UK local government.


Perhaps local government could look to what Ukraine is currently doing – as its hopes of rebuilding rely on fighting corruption if the country is to attract foreign investment. The government has put together the extraordinary DREAM system – as the web portal declares [in English];

DREAM collects, organizes and publishes open data across all stages of reconstruction projects in real time, implementing the highest standards of transparency, and accountability. Anyone, anywhere, can monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of project delivery, and use these insights to mitigate risks, conduct accurate reporting and improve overall project performance.

The system received recognition earlier in the year – as DREAM Ukraine won the Copenhagen Democracy Summit People’s Award:

Ukraine’s transparent electronic reconstruction ecosystem was recognized with The People’s Award at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit. The system is known as DREAM (Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management) and is being developed jointly by the Open Contracting Partnership and the Ministry for Restoration with support from RISE Ukraine, a coalition of more than 40 Ukrainian and international organizations working on open government and anti-corruption reform.

DREAM will provide Ukraine’s citizens, government and donors with a one-stop platform to monitor and manage all stages of Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction projects, creating a single pipeline from communities to funders. It helps ensure the planning and implementation of reconstruction projects is accountable, efficient, inclusive, and sustainable. 


Meanwhile, in East Devon, it is now ‘ten years since a Feniton councillor was caught planning influence claims’. And exactly five years ago, the Sunday Times referred to this case in its piece on Bricks, bribery and mortar – the flaw built into our planning rules:

The depressing truth is that corruption is endemic in Britain’s bureaucratic planning system. In every corner of the country, you can find stories of bribery, with local councillors and officials rigging the planning process for their own gain. Doncaster, Enfield, Greater Manchester, EAST DEVON — these are just a handful of the local authorities where corrupt practices have been discovered in planning departments.

The point is that such scandals have a longer-term effect, even once exposed and the perpetrator excluded from the system, to the extent that “The taint left by Graham Brown from March 2013 lingers in high circles, continuing to discredit East Devon District Council.”

At the time, the investigative journalist Anna Minton put together the report entitled “Scaring the living daylights out of people” where she looked at “The local mafia”: Conflicts of interest in East Devon and the East Devon Business Forum – which Cllr Brown chaired and which had considerable influence over the allocation of employment land under the Local Plan. To such an extent that the story behind the Sidford Business Park can be considered “a grubby history” – and to perhaps an even more serious extent, it should be considered that “The Local Plan is a deeply flawed document.”

Fortunately the new Draft East Devon Local Plan is being put together, although the Sidford Business Park site is still on the market one year on since it was sold on.

However, it is not clear how the legacy of crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon lives on – because, “if you stymie local decision-making, then people are just not going to bother getting involved”

We must ask in conclusion how many people attend planning committee meetings or contribute to the current Draft Local Plan Consultation – the time for which finishes on Sunday 14th January?

Perhaps the District Council could take a leaf out of the great bastion of democracy and transparency fighting for its existence at the edge of Europe.