Future of Havering Council coalition hangs in balance as HRA ‘breaks trust’ over mayoral election

The future of the Havering Council’s leadership coalition is hanging in the balance following the mayoral election for 2024/25.

The Labour group, which runs the council in a coalition with the Havering Residents Association (HRA), is now reconsidering its future after HRA’s Gerry O’Sullivan was named the new first citizen at an annual meeting on Wednesday May 22.

Cllr O’Sullivan, who has represented the St Andrews ward in Hornchurch since 2018, beat Labour nominee and outgoing deputy mayor Pat Brown by 26 votes to 11. Fourteen councillors abstained, including one Labour member.

Keith Darvill, leader of the Labour group, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) he and council leader Ray Morgon had previously “come to an understanding” that Cllr Brown would be selected.

Cllr Darvill said the two parties initially agreed to alternate mayors each year, and Cllr O’Sullivan’s election was a “break of trust”.

He said: “It’s a break of the trust in the two parties, so we’re disappointed.

“The outcome will be that we’re considering whether we’ll continue with the power-sharing agreement.”

Havering Council is one of the few local authorities in the UK not controlled by a political party. The HRA is an independent group that says it prioritises residents’ needs over party allegiances.

The local elections in May 2022 saw no party reach the minimum of 28 councillors needed for a majority, and so the 20 HRA councillors formed a coalition with Labour’s nine.

Cllr Brown expressed her disappointment that the HRA had disregarded the “expected tradition”.

The Gooshays councillor said: “It is disappointing that expected tradition and the Labour group’s expectations have been disregarded to the detriment of the working agreement forming the basis of the current joint administration.

“In fact, HRA members have demonstrated time and again over the past two years that self-service comes before working together for the benefit of residents.”

However, a spokesperson for the HRA told the LDRS the working agreement did not extend to the mayoralty.

She clashed with the Labour group, claiming they had “made it clear” Cllr Brown did not wish to stand as mayor – despite her nomination and support from Cllr Darvill – nor did she wish to be thanked for her service.

She added the HRA was itself “disappointed” by the “game being played by Labour colleagues over the mayoralty”.

Cllr Morgon said in a statement: “We have to respect members’ wishes but on behalf of the HRA, I would like to thank Cllr Patricia Brown for her work on behalf of the borough as deputy mayor for Havering.

During the meeting, Cllr Morgon nominated Cllr O’Sullivan for mayor on the strength of the “fairness” he showed as chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee. His nomination was seconded by deputy leader Gillian Ford.

Cllr Darvill put forward Cllr Brown, citing her the “dignity, commitment and dedication” she had shown over the past municipal year.

After a brief vote, Cllr O’Sullivan took over the role from fellow HRA councillor Stephanie Nunn, who was elected last May. She had replaced Trevor Mckeever, a Labour councillor.

In his opening address, the first citizen said he was “looking forward to my year in office and serving the council and the borough”. HRA’s Sue Ospreay was named deputy mayor for 2024/24.

Laurence Gerrard, a HRA member for Emerson Park, was elected to Cllr O’Sullivan’s role of chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee with 26 votes. He beat Labour’s Matt Stanton, who drew eleven. As before, 14 councillors abstained.

The HRA appears to be less reliant on the Labour party than it perhaps was in the past. Since the 2022 elections, a total of seven councillors have defected to the HRA.

The party now has 25 representatives – just three shy of the minimum to govern on its own.

The meeting concluded with a pun-heavy speech from Cllr Morgon, who likened the borough to a ship – the “HMS Havering” – and spoke of the challenges in keeping it “afloat”.

Havering accepted a £54million loan from central government – known as a ‘capitalisation directive’ – in February, after identifying a budget gap of £32.5m.

Since then, it has looked into a variety of cost-cutting measures, including the proposed closure of four of the borough’s libraries and the sale of public assets.

The leader, having jokingly introduced himself as Captain Morgon, said the borough faced “challenging times” but was hopeful “the crew can shout ‘land ahoy’ in the near future”.

Cllr Gerry O’Sullivan is Havering’s new mayor

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter