Fractious Council Meeting Plagued By Tech Issues

Councillors clash bitterly over allowances and bullying allegations

Five hour meeting was livestreamed but interrupted by IT problems
Five hour meeting was livestreamed but interrupted by IT problems

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A five-hour council meeting descended into chaos over an “IT disaster” and included the chief executive making “wholly inappropriate” comments in the chat box and a councillor’s complaint about being muted live.

Hounslow Council held its full council meeting to debate the annual budget on 2 March, but the crunch meeting was riddled with technical errors, leaving it difficult for viewers to watch.

Unfortunately, this meant tributes read out in memory of councillor Poonam Dhillon, who died earlier this year, were muffled by the sound of mayor Cllr Tony Louki on the phone to IT support, trying to fix the audio issues.

After the first hour the meeting was paused to fix the issues, but on return it appeared a row had begun between Conservative councillor Joanna Biddolph and Cllr Louki – some of it inaudible – over an incident in the chat box.

Cllr Louki made it clear nothing was to be dealt with tonight, before Cllr Biddolph replied, “It’s convenient for you Mr Mayor, it’s not convenient for me…

“The fact is, a statement was made in the chat which was wholly inappropriate and it was made by the chief executive and you can’t just brush it aside.”

Cllr Louki rejected accusations of “trivialising” the issue, apologised for it, but said that he wasn’t going to deal with it “tonight”, but after the meeting.

During the back and forth an officer interjected, reminding councillors: “we’re live”.

Cllr Louki said: “Good”.

Cllr Biddolph continued to argue the language used by the chief executive was inappropriate before Cllr Louki said: “I’m going to mute you”, and silenced the councillor.

He added: “Right so, can I apologise to members looking in and can I come back to agenda item five we’ve got business to do tonight”.

Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives, who were following the meeting on Twitter, Tweeted: “This meeting has been a total embarrassment to Hounslow”.

Elsewhere in the meeting in attempts to debate the budget, Conservative Cllr Ron Mushiso raised a point of order over “bullying” after Labour council leader Steve Curran made a joke about Cllr Biddolph’s Zoom background of a red bus and it descended into a spat about death threats.

Cllr Curran said: “It’s an interesting interjection from Cllr Mushiso because I say something he doesn’t like, I’m now a bully. Cllr Biddolph made a point earlier on that people are being bullied, if councillors are bullying people please report them to the chief exec, and or the monitoring officer, you’ve done neither.

“What I can tell you is councillors have received death threats in regard to Cycleway 9 and the LTNs in Chiswick, so we’ll take no lecture from you guys in dealing with bullies [not councillors].”

But Cllr Biddolph said “they weren’t even proper death threats so it’s a total exaggeration”, and in a damning revelation Cllr Mushiso said: “Cllr Curran talks about death threats, a member of his administration has actually told me to go away and die slowly, and it’s on record Mr Mayor.”

Several strings of speakers were inaudible to hear throughout the five-hour marathon, and in the second major debate of the night over a huge rise in councillors’ allowances, Conservative councillor Ranjit Gill said: “Based on today’s IT disaster wouldn’t it be better you gave it all up and put it into sorting this IT problem so the residents can actually listen to us carefully, this is a better source of using the funds.”

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

March 4, 2021

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