Conservative group leader councillor Damian White has been named the new leader of Havering Council after a tense Town Hall meeting last night (Wednesday, May 23).

Cllr White’s Tory group gained three seats in the May 3 elections to take their number of councillors to 25, but were still three councillors short of an overall majority that would have allowed them to take outright control of the council chamber.

However, during the meeting it was revealed that South Hornchurch councillor Michael Deon-Burton, who ran as an independent candidate in the elections earlier this month, has since joined the Conservatives – taking their complement in the chamber up to 26.

Councillors Brian Eagling, Martin Goode and Darren Wise, all of the Harold Wood Park Residents Association, also backed Cllr White’s leadership bid, meaning that he eventually won a head-to-head contest against Residents Association councillor Clarence Barrett by 29 votes to 20.

All five Labour councillors abstained.

Romford Recorder: South Hornchurch councillor Michael Deon-Burton, who was elected as an independent councillor on May 3, has joined the Conservative group. Photo: Ken MearsSouth Hornchurch councillor Michael Deon-Burton, who was elected as an independent councillor on May 3, has joined the Conservative group. Photo: Ken Mears (Image: Archant)

Cllr Deon-Burton was appointed deputy mayor at the meeting, before it was publicly announced he had joined Cllr White’s group, and was later named chairman of the joint venture working party group, while Cllrs Eagling and Goode were appointed chairmen of two of the borough’s committees with Conservative backing.

Havering’s deputy mayor is entitled to an annual allowance of £4,000 on top of every councillor’s basic allowance of £10,208, while most committee chairmen can also claim an additional responsibility allowance of £7,650.

Independent Residents Group councillor Jeff Tucker withdrew his own leadership bid at the last minute to avoid splitting non-Conservative voters.

A procedural motion submitted by Cllr Barrett that would have permitted each leadership hopeful five minutes to address the meeting before any vote was taken was rejected by councillors.

Cllr White, who described his ascension to the position of council leader as “an honour and a privilege”, used his first leader’s statement to promise that his administration will embark upon “a truly transformational programme to deliver ever-improving public services for residents”.

“I passionately believe that the communities that comprise the London Borough of Havering are some of the best in the country, and I am proud to lead them,” he said.

“The largest challenge facing our council will be balancing the budgetary pressures that our authority will be facing over the years ahead, in light of the continued reduction in the Revenue Support Grant and the increased demand for our services.”

The new leader went on to promise that capital investment in the borough’s roads will be one of his administration’s top priorities, along with maintaining high standards of social care for Havering’s elderly residents and helping police to reduce crime in the area.

Speaking to the Recorder after the meeting, Cllr Barrett lamented the fact he was not allowed to address the meeting before the leadership vote took place.

In the speech he would have given, the leader of the Upminster and Cranham Residents Association would have promised to bring a more “inclusive and reflective” kind of politics to Town Hall, and would also have pledged to carry out a governance review to see if a move back to a committee-based system would have improved the borough’s democratic processes.

He said: “The position of leader is without a doubt the most important in local government, and I think it is absolutely appalling that members were not allowed to address not just their fellow councillors, but also the assembled guests and the wider residents of Havering.

“Is democracy dead?”