Democracy & Governance
  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Race in pole position

    Exeter Labour looks set to pick Steve Race as the party’s parliamentary candidate at the next general election after retiring incumbent Ben Bradshaw anointed his former assistant as his heir apparent in what has been a fairly safe Labour seat since the 1997 landslide...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Bundling boards

    The third in a series of city council scrutiny meetings intended to satisfy councillors that Exeter Development Fund is a way to put Exeter on the map rather than the council’s financial viability at risk took place last week...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Exeter City Council 2022 annual meeting 17 May 2022

    ANALYSIS

    Labour councillors appointed to all fourteen city council committee chairs at annual meeting

    Council leader falsely claims "overwhelming majority" voted Labour in Exeter local elections while circumvention of council decision-making scrutiny continues.

    Exeter City Council party seat distribution after 2022 local elections

    ANALYSIS

    Greens take three seats from Labour so Progressive Group replaces Conservatives as official opposition

    Conservative loss in Topsham among significant vote share changes in 2022 Exeter City Council elections suggesting city's political landscape in flux.

    2022-23 band D council tax charges ranges (England)

    ANALYSIS

    Do Exeter Labour election campaign claims stand up to scrutiny? Coda: Council tax

    The last part of our 2022 local elections series is a coda examining Exeter Labour's claim that the city has one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country.

    2022 Exeter local elections guide graphic

    ANALYSIS

    2022 Exeter local elections guide

    City council elections take place on Thursday 5 May. Our essential guide highlights who's standing where, wards to watch and what the results might look like and mean. We also outline their context and explain when, where and how to vote.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Brownfield or green?

    At yesterday’s second scrutiny meeting in the series being orchestrated by the city council to air Exeter City Futures’ ideas about using Exeter as an urban guinea pig for its development fund project it was Frazer Osment’s turn to play the ringer...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Exeter city councillors with low attendance levels during 2021-22 - stacked bar graph

    ANALYSIS

    Low attendance levels among some councillors mean Exeter electors get varying value for their votes

    As part of our 2022 Exeter local elections coverage we have assessed the past year's attendance figures for public council meetings as a measure of councillor commitment to their constituents.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    It's scrutiny Jim, but not as it should be

    The city council kicked off a quartet of scrutiny meetings intended to pave the way for councillors to give Exeter Development Fund a green light with a session last night that resembled a sales pitch...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Vaughan Road Exeter City Living development site

    ANALYSIS

    Why does Exeter City Council evade public scrutiny of Exeter City Living property development decisions?

    Significant decisions concerning the council-owned company are being taken in secret despite transparency legislation and assurances when it was created, with governance and scrutiny arrangements also potentially putting the council at risk.

    Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall

    ANALYSIS

    Exeter City Futures secondment decision may be unlawful

    Backbench city councillors denied scrutiny call-in powers to challenge controversial decision to send chief executive and senior director to work for private company.

    Guildhall shopping centre sale brochure cover

    ANALYSIS

    £55 million Guildhall shopping centre decision may breach local government transparency rules

    Exeter City Council decision to purchase and redevelop shopping centre may be unlawful, ineffective and subject to judicial review, increasing already significant commercial investment risks.

    Karime Hassan, Phil Bialyk, Tony Rowe and Paul Thomas at Sandy Park hotel development site

    ANALYSIS

    Decision to send council CEO and director to work for Exeter City Futures is "disservice to citizens"

    City council disregards governance, risk and conflict of interest issues despite cross-party challenges and conflates decarbonisation agenda with property development financing scheme.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Devolution doublespeak

    Devon is apparently at the front of the pack for a Michael Gove-flavoured “double” devolution deal despite a competing bid led by Plymouth City Council (which wants to combine with the adjacent West Devon and South Hams district councils), next to no guidance on what is on offer from Whitehall, and even less public discussion about the prospect of local government changes across the county...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Money for nothing

    The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) closed its consultation on draft changes to the Prudential Code last month, following a preliminary consultation earlier this year. The code governs how much councils can borrow to invest and what forms of commercial activity they are permitted to pursue...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Priory vs Pinhoe

    Initial proposals for changes to parliamentary constituency boundaries which will come into force in late 2023, and so are likely to affect the next general election, are currently out for consultation...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

    ANALYSIS

    City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

    An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

    Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

    ANALYSIS

    Freedom of information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

    Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Sound familiar?

    A Centre for Governance and Scrutiny report into Nottingham City Council’s “superficial and inadequate” scrutiny mechanisms has been published...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Marking their own homework

    Exeter City Council’s ruling Labour group reallocated the city’s committee seats at its annual meeting last week...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Follow the money

    Glenn Woodcock and Roli Martin of Global City Futures were invited to join the board which oversees the Devon Carbon Plan at its meeting last month and given the same decision-making powers as the rest of the board, which is almost exclusively composed of public sector organisations...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

    ANALYSIS

    Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

    Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

    Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

    NEWS

    High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

    Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    So many questions

    Quote of the week must surely go to Exeter City Council leader Phil Bialyk for: “Sorry, chair, I just need to refer to some of my other notes, if you’ll just bear with me”...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Electoral Commission ballot box graphic

    ANALYSIS

    2021 Exeter local elections guide

    Elections for Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner are taking place in Exeter on 6 May. Our essential election guide highlights wards and divisions to watch, changes taking place and how, when and where to vote.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    Independent county councillor Claire Wright stands down

    Claire Wright, who has represented Otter Valley since 2013 is standing down after winning the largest majority of any county councillor two terms running...

    DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

  • Exeter Guildhall needs repairs

    ANALYSIS

    £37.5 million council maintenance backlog caused by underinvestment to be part-funded by asset sales

    Exeter City Council has allowed property assets to deteriorate while prioritising new schemes including the £44 million St. Sidwell's Point leisure centre, forcing it to identify assets for sale to pay its outstanding repair bills.

    Independent councillor Jemima Moore campaigns in Newtown during the 2019 Exeter local elections

    NEWS

    Door to door campaigning for May local elections to go ahead after all

    Government announces relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on election canvassing from next Monday 8 March in step with planned lockdown rule changes.

    Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

    ANALYSIS

    Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

    Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

    Exeter polling station

    NEWS

    May local elections to go ahead despite COVID-19 challenges

    Ban on doorstep canvassing and door to door leaflet distribution likely to favour the two major parties on 6 May as postal and proxy voting encouraged in Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

    St. Sidwell's Point development site outline aerial view

    ANALYSIS

    Exeter City Council executive members take direct control of city planning decisions

    Council's executive now possesses majority on city planning committee, with council leader and planning portfolio holder also included despite national guidance, offering basis to challenge decisions and increasing democratic deficit.

    Food retailers at Queen Street Dining in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

    ANALYSIS

    Unelected Liveable Exeter Place Board created to oversee city from the shadows

    Exeter City Council has convened an unelected board that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and is taking responsibility for major policies which will determine Exeter's future.

    Exeter Princesshay deserted under COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown

    NEWS

    Exeter City Council announces £1.584m April budget shortfall caused by COVID-19 restrictions

    Council revenues have fallen dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting a £6.357 million capital spending deferment. But financial support from government has so far been limited.

    Exeter City Council accounts delayed by auditors Grant Thornton

    ANALYSIS

    Exeter & East Devon council accounts delayed by Grant Thornton's "lack of staff resources"

    Annual accounts for local government, including Exeter City Council, have been delayed by private sector firms failing to complete their work on time after cost-cutting government auditing reforms.

    2019 parliamentary elections - Devon Conservative vote share change bar chart

    ANALYSIS

    Conservative vote share varies across Devon but still blocks an Independent MP in East Devon

    Labour loses vote share in every constituency, but retains Exeter and Plymouth Sutton & Devonport to leave the county position unchanged from 2017.

    Exeter election polling station

    NEWS

    Conservatives hold Topsham in Exeter city council by-election

    A by-election held on general election day produced an unusually high turnout but a lower Conservative vote share than at the May local elections.

    East Devon Independent Claire Wright 2019 general election candidate

    ANALYSIS

    East Devon Independent Claire Wright set to unite Remain voters in close historic two-way contest

    Claire Wright is poised to make history by beating the Tories in East Devon next week. If she does it will be without thanks to the LibDems and Greens, who insisted on standing candidates against her despite the preferences of local party members and the Unite to Remain campaign.

    2019 Devon County Council Heavitree & Whipton Barton by-election Exeter vote share swing bar chart

    NEWS

    Exeter Labour support collapses in Heavitree & Whipton Barton county by-election

    Greg Sheldon wins Devon County Council division by just 40 votes after Labour loses nearly a fifth of its previous vote share.

    Exeter City Council cuts executive decision-making scrutiny

    ANALYSIS

    Exeter City Council cuts scrutiny of executive decision-making

    Constitutional changes proposed by Exeter City Council will make it more difficult to hold the ruling political group to account.

    Exeter anti-government protest Devon for Europe speaker

    COMMENT

    Exeter protest misses its mark by mixing its messages

    One of Exeter's biggest ever street demonstrations combined anti-Brexit and pro-democracy concerns to produce a confused protest against government policy.

    Exeter City Council public toilet closures Exeter Live Better hoarding

    COMMENT

    Exeter could do better - was there no alternative to closing so many public toilets?

    Exeter City Council did not need to close thirteen public toilets to balance the books. The money to keep them open was available in reserves, but no mention of this option was made during public decision-making by councillors or officers.

    Exeter City Council public toilet closure notice

    ANALYSIS

    Caught short - balancing the books in a hurry

    Exeter City Council has unapologetically confirmed its decision to close 13 public toilets as a money-saving measure with full knowledge of its expected effect on residents and visitors. Can we expect other spending cuts to be handled the same way?

    Molly Scott Cato at the European Parliament

    COMMENT

    Is EU membership essential to our ability to deal with the climate emergency?

    Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for the South West, visited Exeter during her re-election campaign to explain why the EU and its Green Group is leading the way on a wide range of progressive policies.

    Exeter City Council city centre wards map

    NEWS

    Exeter Labour loses local elections in all three city centre wards

    Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city's ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party's confident campaign.

    Jemima Moore campaigning in Exeter local elections

    ANALYSIS

    Local resident stands as independent candidate in Exeter elections

    Jemima Moore is a 36 year-old part-time primary school teacher and mother of two young children with little political experience. So why has she decided to stand for election to Exeter City Council on 2 May?

    Exeter City Council press and public exclusion notice

    ANALYSIS

    What does your council know that you don't know you don't know?

    Extracting information from councils is hard work but increasingly necessary for local democracy.


    Help power our public interest journalism

    Transport & Mobility

    GALLERY

    Kidical Mass returns to Exeter's streets

    Hundreds of people took part in Exeter's third Kidical Mass family bike ride on Saturday as part of a global campaign for safe cycling routes for children, young people and families.

    E3 cycle route Chard Road modal filter

    COMMENT

    Exeter cycling & walking strategy five years late and counting

    County council soft-pedalling on infrastructure plan which city council says will not form part of new Exeter Local Plan despite Department for Transport guidance.

    Stagecoach app showing Exeter bus service delays and cancellations

    ANALYSIS

    Bus back better? Exeter services expected to remain unfit for purpose without needed changes

    Government underfunding and bus sector challenges limit scope for improvement but county council failure to upgrade routes and policy ambitions plus high housing costs make Exeter difficulties acute, undermining net zero aspirations.

    Planning & Place
    The Gorge co-living block classic studio room floorplan

    NEWS

    First Exeter "co-living" block comes on stream with rooms at £946pcm+

    Even "affordable" rooms in six storey 133-unit Gladstone Road block would leave many local key workers living below minimum income threshold.

    Summerland Street co-living block redevelopment site

    NEWS

    Council paves way for 186-bed "co-living" block in Summerland Street

    Freedom of information request reveals intended scale of development after executive committee takes decision behind closed doors.

    Exeter City Futures Exeter Development Fund presentation slide

    COMMENT

    Exeter Development Fund: rent extraction, unaffordable housing and gentrification, but not net zero

    Exeter City Futures' private debt-driven Liveable Exeter property development financing scheme is under fire from councillors who say it is based on insufficiently-evidenced assumptions and won't meet Exeter's housing needs.

    Arts & Culture
  • THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 2022

    Spork! open mic night

    Headlinder Charice Bharwaj will lead an evening of spoken word entertainment.

    LITTLE DROP OF POISON

  • FRIDAY 30 SEPTEMBER & SATURDAY 1 OCTOBER 2022

    Pop-up curiosity shop

    Agile Rabbit is hosting a two day science and culture-themed event featuring music, live art, interactive exhibits and games, talks and workshops.

    MAKETANK

  • WEDNESDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2022

    Mother Tongue

    Mothers Who Make and Spork! present a lunchtime spoken word event for mother artists and audiences with caring roles.

    MAKETANK

  • Climate & Environment
    Extinction Rebellion UK tour bus outside Exeter City Council's Paris Street offices

    COMMENT

    World car free day ignored in Exeter as Extinction Rebellion challenges council climate inaction

    Protestors gathered outside council offices as CEO Karime Hassan posed for photo with construction company development manager at Princesshay promotion.

    Exeter City Futures website - vision & mission summary

    ANALYSIS

    University emissions study confirms Net Zero Exeter plan redundancy

    Council retains Exeter City Futures' services despite history of delivery failures and lack of capacity to support defined decarbonisation targets.

    Rob Hannaford and Karime Hassan at Exeter City Council's June 2022 strategic scrutiny committee meeting

    COMMENT

    Net Zero Exeter accountability under scrutiny

    Exeter City Council's response to the climate crisis has so far been characterised by numerous failings. Unfortunately its attitude towards accountability for its actions in this area is also cause for concern.

    Community & Society
  • THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 2022

    Sourdough bread-making by night

    St. Sidwell's Community Centre is running autumn evening sourdough pizza and pitta-making courses.

    SIDWELL STREET BAKEHOUSE

  • SUNDAY 2 OCTOBER 2022

    Herbal history, folklore & medicine

    Exeter Seed Bank is holding a workshop exploring common local herbs and plants with medical herbalist Ile Ashcroft.

    EXETER PHOENIX

  • SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2022

    Kidical Mass is back

    Kidical Mass Exeter is holding its third family bike ride and picnic as part of an ongoing campaign for safe cycling routes for children, young people and families.

    NORTHERNHAY GARDENS

  • Economy & Enterprise
    Exeter City Council government borrowing 2014-2022 bar chart

    ANALYSIS

    Council borrowing nearly triples in three years as property acquisitions and development loans mount

    Freedom of information request reveals five paragraph "outline business plan" for £55 million Guildhall shopping centre investment.

    Exeter 2020 net internal migration by age group bar chart

    ANALYSIS

    Exeter beset by unaffordable housing, low graduate retention and economically inactive over 50's

    Exeter City Council executive ignores key challenges flagged in major council-commissioned employment and skills research report.

  • NOTES & SKETCHES

    How to inflate housing costs and influence people

    Despite Exeter’s rapidly worsening housing crisis, the council has continued its relentless promotion of the city as a destination to potential incomers by commissioning a coterie of Instagram influencers to flog the place to their followers after spending a May weekend here...

    ECONOMY & ENTERPRISE