Greenwich Council leader Anthony Okereke pays tribute to predecessor as he takes over

Anthony Okereke in council chamber
Anthony Okereke makes his first speech as council leader

Greenwich Council’s new leader Anthony Okereke officially took charge of the borough last night and led tributes to his predecessor Danny Thorpe.

Okereke defeated Thorpe in a close vote of Labour councillors earlier this month after the party won a thumping victory in the local elections.

His election was confirmed last night at the council’s annual general meeting, which confirms the make-up of the various committees and panels that make up the council.

After being proposed by the new chief whip, Abbey Wood councillor Peter Baker, and seconded by his new co-councillor in Woolwich Common, Liz Ige, Okereke was unanimously voted in as leader.

He told Woolwich Town Hall: “It is an honour to be elected to lead the Royal Borough of Greenwich. This is my home, this is also where I grew up and it is where my family lives.

“Like everyone here I am deeply passionate about our residents and I’m excited to be working with our officers, all colleagues and our residents to make sure that we can ensure the quality of life of every single one of our residents.”

Paying tribute to Thorpe, who was absent from the meeting, he added: “He has done much to be proud of. His commitment to this borough is well known in Greenwich and across London.

“He steered us through the pandemic and has fought for our residents in difficult times. I would like to thank him for his service. I know coming into this role, I have big shoes to fill and I’m determined to build on his great work and deliver on our manifesto.”

Matt Hartley takes over as leader of the opposition after fellow Conservative Nigel Fletcher lost his seat at the election.

Despite winning nearly a quarter of all votes cast, the first-past-the-post system means the Tories now have just three councillors out of a total of 55.

Hartley also paid tribute to Thorpe, who returns to the backbenches. “Danny and I have disagreed on a great many things in this council chamber, but no one can doubt his passion for this borough, his commitment to public service or how hard he has worked for Greenwich for these last few years, particularly during Covid.

“He can be proud of what he did as our new leader of the council – I saw the impact it had on him.

“While I’m sure there are lots of new opportunities and lots of hard work ahead. I do hope he will put his feet up for just a few days and reflect on the good that he’s done.”

He also paid tribute to Fletcher, who suffered his second defeat of his council career three weeks ago, and welcomed Okereke to his post.

Hartley said: “I’ve now seen two people serving as leader of this council up close. And as you know, more than anyone, it is an enormous job, a privilege and a burden and most of all, an awesome responsibility. And I wish Cllr Okereke all the very best as he steps up to that task.”

The new cabinet: (front row from left) Aidan Smith, Anthony Okereke, Averil Lekau, Adel Khaireh, (centre row from left) Pat Slattery, Mariam Lolavar, (back row) Ann-Marie Cousins, Matt Morrow, Ivis Williams, Denise Scott-McDonald

The new council leader told Labour councillors when he was fighting for election that he would meet his counterpart in Newham in the next ten days to discuss the Silvertown Tunnel. He also pledged to make developers pay more towards council funds, with Greenwich losing out on windfalls that other boroughs are receiving.

Okereke’s new cabinet includes four councillors who are stepping up to senior roles for the first time, including Aidan Smith with the key regeneration portfolio and his colleague in Greenwich Park, Pat Slattery, taking over housing. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Leo Fletcher will be the new ceremonial mayor.

Of the 55 councillors elected three weeks ago, 25 are newcomers. They have a few more weeks to get to grips with casework and their other roles before the first full meeting of the new council, scheduled for 29 June.

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