Havering Council denies using public resources to promote Tory candidates

Conservative leaflet and Havering Council newsletter

On the left is a Conservative leaflet delivered in Rainham. On the right is a Havering Council newsletter sent out weeks later. - Credit: Archant

Havering Council has denied using public resources to aid the Conservative Party.

The local authority came under fire after publishing a newsletter to 60,000 subscribers, featuring two women without mentioning that they were Tory election candidates.

On Friday, August 20, the council's official newsletter praised Sue Ospreay and Jackie McArdle for "passionately" supporting Rainham residents and "various charities".

But opposition councillors recognised the women as the signatories to a recent Conservative leaflet distributed in Rainham.

“As lifelong Rainham residents, we have taken the decision to stand to become your local councillors,” it said.

The borough’s residents’ associations (HRAs) filed a formal complaint, calling it an "abuse of power and misuse of public resources”.

Labour also complained, branding the incident an "absolute disgrace”.

Havering Council newsletter

This newsletter was sent out by Havering Council last week. - Credit: Havering Council

Conservative leaflet

A leaflet delivered to Rainham residents last month, announcing Jackie McArdle and Sue Ospreay as Conservative candidates. - Credit: The HRAs

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Councillors accused the authority of breaching the Local Government Act, which says councils must not publish anything which “in whole or in part appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party”.

Questioned about the newsletter, Havering's press office said there was "no political bias or interference in production of the article”.

Councillors said they have been told it was written by a contractor in Glasgow who did not know the women were Tory activists.

The press office added that in July it had run a feature praising a woman in Romford - a Labour candidate - for tidying up an alleyway.

Havering Council newsletter

The newsletter sent out last month, which Havering said had similarly promoted a Labour candidate. - Credit: Havering Council

Labour leader Keith Darvill said the articles were not comparable, as the Labour candidate’s surname and photograph were not used, rendering her difficult to identify.

“It’s not an equal treatment by any means whatsoever,” he said, adding that he was seeking legal advice.

HRA chair Gillian Ford said it was especially serious because it was “not the first time” such complaints had been made. 

Last year Cllr White was secretly recorded claiming the chief executive had sanctioned the use of council resources to secure “politically advantageous” electoral boundaries.

The council denied the claims and Cllr White insisted he had done nothing wrong.

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