Havering Council debates leader Cllr Michael White’s annual speech for first time

Last week’s full council meeting featured a first – following a motion put forward by opposition parties at the last meeting, councillors had the chance to debate the annual speech given by the leader of the council.

Back in May, delivering his eighth leader’s speech, Conservative councillor Michael White (Squirrels Heath) devoted time to the new sports centre to be opened on Western Road, the freezing of council tax and the borough’s Jubilee celebrations.

And last week, allotted five minutes each, 25 Havering councillors took the opportunity to respond to Cllr White’s speech, after a successful motion put forward at the last meeting by the leaders of the opposition parties.

Cllr Clarence Barrett (Cranham), leader of the Residents’ Association, accused Cllr White of avoiding key issues.

“We heard plenty about being on everyone’s side, aspiration and responsibility and all the comfortable things,” he said, “but ultimately it was a lightweight speech.” Cllr Barrett pointed to topics absent from Cllr White’s speech like Havering’s projected �2m funding gap after Council Tax Benefit is reformed early in 2013, and the council’s new responsibility for health and well being from April.

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“We also heard how council tax has been frozen,” he said, “but this is because the government give us a special grant to make sure it is frozen. It wasn’t a joint effort – we were told to freeze council tax or face the consequences.”

Cllr Keith Darvill (Heaton), leader of the local Labour group, echoed Cllr Barrett’s remarks.

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“We are bathing in the glory of the capital support that comes from the government’s central funding,” he said. “The speech was self-congratulatory and repeated announcements already made. It was most remarkable for what it failed to say.”

Responding to a rumour that the Olympic Torch Relay would be rerouted to bypass the Village Centre in Rainham, Cllr Jeffrey Tucker (Rainham and Wennington), leader of the Independent Residents’ Group, said: “I will not let this happen. Cllr White, you will be crucified by the Rainham Mafia.”

Cllr Tucker also used his five minutes to offer an alternative vision of the council: “When I am leader of this council, I will not run this council the same.

“Our role as councillors is to defend, represent and negotiate for the residents, not work as civil servants inside the council. Officers of this council will have their positions back to run the departments in the manner their qualifications and job titles allow.”

Tory Cllr Roger Evans (Elm Park) said: “No one can accuse Cllr Tucker of being short of visions.”

Cllr Geoffrey Starns (Conservative, Havering Park) said the debate had strayed from its original topic. “It’s interesting that the opposition wanted a debate about the leader’s speech and then promptly went off on a list of things that weren’t on the leader’s speech,” he said.

Responding to the comments, Cllr White defended his speech, saying it would have been a “three-hour monologue” had he included everything that had been brought up during the debate. “We took a decision to stop moaning and get on with it,” he added.

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