The condition of the Comhairle’s council chamber and its video conference facilities has been described as an “utter disgrace” and “a shambles” by a Harris and South Lochs councillor.
Cllr John Mitchell made his statements following the revelation last week that the Comhairle was planning a £100k refit of the chamber and its IT and video conferencing facilities, with similar works for council meeting rooms in other parts of the islands.
In his statement, Cllr Mitchell described how he had recently been prevented by poor communication links from taking part remotely in meetings, and stated that the alternative was “not possible” requiring more than two hours of travel to every meeting in Stornoway or, for many councillors across the islands, not being able to take part in some meetings at all.
Cllr Mitchell also decribed his “embarrassment” at showing visitors around the council chamber, which, he added, “was now 47 years old”.
In a message to councillors and the Comhairle’s chief executive, Cllr Mitchell added: “This upgrade cannot come soon enough for me and I’m sure I speak on behalf of the other ‘satellite’ areas when I argue for proportionate funds to be invested in our outlying areas as well as the Chamber.”
The leader of the SNP group of councillors, Cllr Gordon Murray, had last week issued a statement criticisng some aspects of the refit plans for new furniture and ‘the physcial environment’ in the chamber as not being “a spending prioirty”, but backed the upgrade of the IT and communications systems for meetings.
In a further statement, Cllr Mitchell backed calls by Cllr Murray for the issue to be put before a meeting of the full council, and called for councillors to now “have the chance to consider a range of fully costed options”.
It is understood that Comhairle officials have stated to councillors that the funding for the planned refurbishments has been budgeted and financed over a number of years, using monies for capital spending, which is not available for use in the day-to-day running of council services.
A Comhairle source also confirmed that a detailed budget for the refit would not be revealed as the planned works would be going out to public tendor.