Residents Association-Labour coalition collapses at Havering Council after weeks of uncertainty

The political coalition controlling Havering Council has collapsed after weeks of uncertainty.

The Havering Residents Association (HRA) cut ties with the Labour group on Monday, bringing to an end to a two-year alliance.

Its future had been hanging in the balance after HRA councillors elected one of their own as mayor in May, which Labour leader Keith Darvill called a “break in trust” and a “fundamental reason” for the split.

Cllr Darvill said the HRA had agreed Pat Brown, the outgoing deputy mayor and Labour member for Gooshays, would be selected after HRA councillor Stephanie Nunn’s term ended, but the HRA denied such an agreement was in place.

At a meeting of HRA councillors on June 3, they voted overwhelmingly to break off from Labour and “go it alone,” council leader Ray Morgon said.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that a break had been “inevitable,” but had expected the coalition to end nearer the May 2026 elections.

He said: “It was expected there’d be a rift next year, but it came sooner than we thought.

“My group was making noises that they wanted to move away from Labour. We’ve got near enough the numbers to have a majority, so now was the time.”

The May 2022 elections saw no one party reach the 28 seats required to form a majority. The HRA’s 20 councillors entered into a coalition with Labour’s nine, but five councillors have since defected from the Conservatives to HRA.

The final blow came with Paul McGeary’s defection from Labour over the weekend, which brought the HRA’s numbers up to 26 – two shy of a majority.

Cllr Morgon said there are independents sitting on the council that the HRA can try to work with and he was “confident” the independent party would perform well as a minority administration.

Following the split, Labour will now act as a minority opposition party. It will challenge the council on its decisions and proposals, alongside the 16-strong Tories and independent councillors.

Cllr Darvill told the LDRS that while he was disappointed, he had “expected it”.

He said: “I was hoping, being a born optimist, that good sense would prevail but clearly it has not.

“For political understandings like this to work, there has to be understanding and parties have to work together for residents of Havering.”

He added that pulling out of a Labour coalition when the national party appears set to win a general election next month seemed “futile”.

He said: “At a time when the council is in difficult financial situations, needing Government support and clear political direction, the decision to go it alone seems weird.”

Cllr McGeary will keep his role as cabinet member for housing, while Cllr Darvill is expected to be replaced as the member for climate change by Natasha Summers, the councillor for South Hornchurch who is currently the cabinet member for housing need.

In recent months, the HRA has found itself facing a difficult financial situation. Earlier this year, after identifying a budget gap of £32.5million, the council took on a government loan of £54m – which it will need to pay back over the next 20 years.

This has led to controversial cost-saving proposals, including the closure of four of the borough’s ten libraries, which Cllr Darvill said had become “very political”.

The HRA claims to be apolitical and removed from national politics, which it calls restrictive.

Councillors that have defected have said, in statements issued by the HRA, that they did so in order to focus on residents’ issues rather than party politics.

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