'Team Devon' will work together to support refugees

People take part in the Standing In Solidarity With Ukraine vigil on The Mound, Edinburgh

Standing in solidarity with Ukraine - Credit: PA

This may tempt fate and by the time this article is published, we may be languishing under another late winter storm. However, looking out of my office window now, the distant green hills overlooking the Coly Valley sit beneath a vivid blue sky. Are we nearly there, is it time for some of us to reach to the back of the cupboard for our shorts?

Let’s hope so, because the news from central Europe is breaking every one of our hearts, and the horror is that it just keeps coming. We cannot possibly hope to match the defiant courage of the Ukrainians, but I am proud to live in a district that is already doing what it can to help.

Village halls, shops, even galleries, have been packed with donated supplies to be taken by an intrepid fleet of white vans. Nobody waited to be asked, and everything from toys to canned food, nappies to paracetamol is now being sorted by an army of volunteers. Fantastic.

At East Devon District Council, I asked for immediate confirmation that our Treasury does not have any direct investments in Russian financial products, and I am glad to report that we do not. This really matters.

Some readers may remember that last week I asked the open questions of the local Conservatives as to whether they have in the past or will in the future run their campaigns using Russian-origin cash. I have not received an answer yet, but my personal view remains that while people across the country are making kind donations for Ukraine, the national party should give their Russian-origin donations to charity.

This kind of murk is why many local people came together back in 2014 to form my own political group, the East Devon Alliance of Independents. While the Conservatives distribute expensive full-colour leaflets for their candidates, often posted direct, drawing down on national party funds with a part-Russian origin, our local EDA candidates pay for their own leaflets with a few bob help from our minuscule bank account, which is lucky to get four figures.

This is important because 2014 was also the year Putin stole the Black Sea region of Crimea. Looking a little further back, 2004 was the year that Roman Ambromovich purchased Chelsea FC. To the great credit of my best friend of now 50 years, he abandoned Chelsea that day and switched to his wife’s family team in Sheffield.

You didn’t need to be a genius in either 2004, or 2014 (when Sir Hugo Swire auctioned that infamous tennis match with Cameron and Johnson to a Putin pal) to know that this Russian money stank. The government has finally acted against the Chelsea owner. Time now, perhaps, to clear out its own party stables?

As this paper goes to press, the picture is changing daily about how we may be able to help with Ukrainian refugees. I can reassure readers that Team Devon authorities – that is, Devon County and District Councils and the Devon Association of Local Councils – have pledged to work together to support those seeking sanctuary in the UK, and are already giving support to families in Devon whose relatives in Ukraine are fleeing the conflict.

I can also confirm that other councils beyond East Devon have also taken steps to cut Russian links, such as through contracts for energy provision. And any few remaining investments within the Devon Pension Fund, linked to Russian assets, are being sold off quickly.

I had a meeting last week with the Leader of Exeter City Council, Phil Bialyk, who has many family members in Ukraine. His council is on full alert, and I am pleased to say, so is ours. If and when the refugees arrive here, they will see the Ukraine flag flying at our HQ, and can be reassured of a warm and practical welcome from the generous and kind folk hereabouts.