ALMOST a day after the polls closed, the result of the Middlesbrough mayoral election was announced with the margin of victory coming down to just a few hundred votes.

Labour deputy mayor Dave Budd saw off Independent candidate Andy Preston to become the next mayor by 256 votes after the result was declared at the town’s Southlands Centre.

Mr Budd received 19,538 votes, compared with the philanthropic businessman's 19,282.

The former bank manager who steps into Ray Mallon's shiny shoes said he was "exhausted" following a campaign which had seen its fair share of mud-slinging.

Following the result, which was announced at 9.30pm, Mr Budd said: "It's been a long campaign, it's been difficult and it's been divisive from time to time - perhaps more than any other campaign I have been involved with.

"To all the people who have not won in the mayoral and council election - this town needs people to work together and there are different ways of doing it.

"My door will be open for people who are positive and want to take the town forward."

At the first count Mr Budd secured 16,680 votes, compared with Mr Preston’s 14,265. But as no candidate received 50 per cent of the vote, second preferences were totted up and Mr Budd prevailed.

There were six candidates in total, but Mike Carr (Ind, 5,549), Dave Robert (Ind, 5,893), Len Junier (Ind, 3,207) and Lloyd Cole-Nolan (Con 3,844) did not get past the first round of counting.

There was a 53 per cent turnout and 51,427 mayoral ballot papers were issued.

Mr Preston said he would not be contesting the nail-biting result and thanked all those who had voted for him and assisted in his campaign.

He said he planned to concentrate on attracting £700,000 of investment for his charitable Teesside Philanthropic Foundation and planned to launch a not-for-profit restaurant to help homeless people into employment.

Earlier there was a call for an electronic voting system to be brought in to speed up proceedings.

Unsuccessful candidate, Mr Carr said: "I think we have to learn from this, we have to be the first in the country to introduce electronic voting so this does not happen again."

The Northern Echo:

LINE-UP: Five of the candidates at the count. Len Junier, Dave Roberts, Mike Carr, Dave Budd and Andy Preston.

Mr Junier, meanwhile, said: "I feel so sorry for these guys (the counters), some of them have been here since yesterday afternoon.

"If cities like Sunderland can do it in 50 minutes, why does it take Middlesbrough 22 hours?"

Mr Roberts added: "It's the staff I have sympathy with. They worked long and hard yesterday and again today with just a few hours sleep for the lucky ones."

However, Mr Preston thought concerns were exaggerated.

"It's not good but it's an unusual event and things crop up. I feel sorry for the staff but, truthfully, I think we are whinging a bit. We just have to get on with it," he said.

A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said it had been a complex election with a high turnout and staff had worked extremely hard to make the process as efficient as possible.

“We will, of course, review the arrangements to ensure that any lessons that need to be learned can be used to improve the way we administer future elections," he said.