60 seconds with…a happy backbencher

Councillor David Pugsley, 79, a former Chairman and Leader of Mid Devon District Council, is standing down at this May’s local elections after 40 years.

Councillor David Pugsley was first elected in a by-election in 1975, a year after local government reorganisation saw the creation of county and district councils in England. He served as an Independent for an unbroken 32 years to 2007, and a total of 40 years after twice losing and then regaining his seat between 2007 and 2023.

Q Why did you first decide to stand as a councillor?

A I’m a local boy, born in Tiverton. I cycled over a large patch of the district and was annoyed at some of the decisions being taken, particularly in respect of planning (planning is the real ‘hot potato’ for districts). I thought: “It’s no good being annoyed, get yourself elected and try to do something about it.”

Q Why did you stand as an Independent?

A I’ve always thought of myself as an Independent because I’m local and I know the area and I don’t see that party politics has much to do with it. But also, in mid-1970s mid Devon, we were very rural, and most of the other councillors were Independents.

We are now seeing it go almost totally the other way. The first party political group was in 1995. Looking at candidates for May’s elections, the serious candidates are all party political. 

In the old days, the ballot paper had just names and no political allegiances – you voted for individuals then. An Independent can represent your ward regardless of what anyone says – you haven’t got a party whip saying ‘this is what you have got to do’.

Q Have you enjoyed being a councillor?

A I enjoy canvassing very much – although for many people, it’s a chore – just going around and finding nooks and corners of the district, who’s living there and having a chat, interacting with residents…

There’s less of that nowadays. A lot of contact between councils and residents has gone. I’m struck by how rarely I see other councillors at events or other things around the district. 

Forty years ago, councillors were much more involved in small local decisions affecting their wards. We are getting on with climate change and other things, but there is an awful lot more committees and talking shop. Everything takes longer than when I started. 

Q What about being chairman and leader?

A Being chairman was great fun but very, very busy going around all over the place. I didn’t enjoy being leader – we were in a transition phase, we didn’t have a cabinet, it’s a lot of pressure, so I stopped. I’m a pretty happy backbencher!

Q Would you recommend being a councillor?

A I would say to anyone who is complaining about local services – get in  there and see if you can do it better. It does take an enormous amount of time now – originally, I just had housing committee and full council every six weeks – but it’s satisfying to be making a contribution and seeing what you can do for the local area. 

I recommend going to council meetings before standing; I went for six months before I did. It gives you a very good idea of what’s happening, the spread of business and decisions the council covers, and an idea of what the district does and what the county functions are.

Q Why have you decided to stand down now?

A We are taking decisions that will take effect over the next five to 10 years: I don’t think I should be taking those decisions.


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