Hounslow Chief Exec apologises for comment in bad-tempered council meeting

Image above: Niall Bolger apology on Twitter

The Chief Executive of LB Hounslow, Niall Bolger, has apologised to Chiswick Councillor Joanna Biddolph after making a comment in the messaging stream during Hounslow’s Council meeting on Tuesday 2 March, which he evidently didn’t realise was public.

The annual budget meeting was plagued by technical difficulties and sparked bad-tempered debates. During the five hour meeting he wrote:

‘Ive got a running F****ng commentary from Biddolph’.

Cllr Biddolph wanted the “wholly inapropriate” comment addressed there and then. Mayor Cllr Tony Louki, chairing the meeting, told her the issue would be addressed later, as there was too much business to be discussed to address it during the meeting, including setting the Council budget for the coming year and the contentious issue of the Council Leader and senior councillors voting themselves huge increases in their Special Responsibility Allowances.

“It’s convenient [to move on] for you Mr Mayor, it’s not convenient for me…” said Councillor Biddolph.

“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.”

When she continued to pursue it, he muted her.

Several speakers were inaudible throughout the five-hour meeting, despite the Mayor calling in IT early on in the proceedings. Tributes to the late councillor Poonam Dhillon, who died at the beginning of 2021 were muffled as a result of the audio problems. She served as a councillor for Cranford ward between 2006-2014 and was appointed Deputy Mayor in the municipal year 2010-2011.

Bullying allegations

While councillors attempted to debate the budget, Conservative Cllr Ron Mushiso raised a point of order over “bullying” after Cllr Steve Curran made a joke about Cllr Biddolph’s Zoom background of a red bus, which then descended into a spat about councillors receiving death threats.

Cllr Curran said:

“I’d like to thank Cllr McGregor for actually putting an alternative budget in, that’s the first time for as long as I can remember. It’s normally done on the back of a cigarette packet and is just a whole list of pointless amendments …

“… it was a mis-match of, as Joanna Biddolph rightly called the stuff he talks about, ‘his rhetoric’, and I noticed from her picture again she’s got that picture of a bus which hasn’t moved for at least two months…”

Cllr Biddolph laughed at this but Cllr Mushisho jumped in:

“This is exactly what Cllr Biddolph has been talking about – bullying. Discussing this budget has nothing to do with Joanna Biddolph’s background.”

Cllr Curran responded:

“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].”

Cllr Biddolph, now unmuted, chipped in:

“they weren’t even proper death threats so it’s a total exaggeration”.

Cllr Mushiso added:

“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. If that’s not a death threat… I don’t know what is.”

Image above: Hounslow Council Budget meeting, Tuesday 2 March 2021

Complaints about pay rise for councillors

In the second major debate of the night, over the proposal to make a huge increase in councillors’ allowances, as revealed by The Chiswick Calendar, several of Chiswick’s councillors criticised the increase.

After the tumultuous technical events throughout the meeting, 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.”

Cllr Gerald McGregor said he would be donating any increase he receives in the future to charity and will not be requesting a backdated income reimbursement, which is now possible for councillors. Cllr McGregor said members of the Conservative group are “against [the pay rises] in principle.”

Cllr Mushisho criticised the timing of the increases:

“These monies need to be used elsewhere, perhaps charities, perhaps other causes. This whole increase speaks of pure arrogance by this administration yet again. They say they are the nice party, but this is just incompetent and this is nasty. This is the real nasty party when you’re putting up people’s council taxes and then giving yourself a hefty pay rise.”

Labour Cllr Theo Dennison, who personally agrees that the timing of the increases is wrong, said:

“The allowances we pay in Hounslow are actually pitiful compared to what is actually payable in the rest of London. Somebody sometime would have to bite the bullet and make a payment that recompensed people for their time – immense time in many of our cases – that we put towards doing the best for our constituents.

“It’s wrong to suggest that colleagues are in any way wrong to correct this error, somebody was going to have to do it and they were going to have to take it on the chin and I admire the fact my colleagues have been prepared to do that.”

The Council’s budget for 2021 – 22 was passed. In includes an increase of 5% in the Council’s part of the tax. The GLA has also signed off on the Mayor of London increasing his part of hte tax as well.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: March 2021 Budget reaction

See also: LB Hounslow leader justifies huge increase in councillors’ allowances planned for this year

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