Andover Town Council has rejected plans to spend just under £120 a year on a private Zoom subscription for councillors.

Councillors were asked to consider a proposal to spend £11.99 a month on the calling service for members so that they could organise their own Zoom calls without having to go through officers.

The plans were rejected in a close vote by councillors just before the time allotted to the meeting ran out.

At present, the town council has a Zoom subscription to be used for meetings of the council and its committees. These are organised by officers in advance.

However, some councillors had advocated a separate subscription be set up to allow them to call others as part of working groups the council has recently set up, with Councillor David Coole saying this would “avoid burdening the officers in any further way.”

He said: “If members want to hold working groups, they have to involve officers to arrange the working groups which takes away time from their workload and we already know they are overworked and have backlogs”.

The motion was then moved straight to a vote without debate, with councillors attending the Assets and Communities Committee having previously voted by four to three to not extend the meeting beyond two hours.

This move was queried by Cllr Jason Sangster, who asked if the council should be “approving expenditure without debate”.

He said: “We’ve been talking about democracy but when it doesn’t suit people about democracy and debating things it gets shut down.”

He was supported by Cllr Robin Hughes, who said that the council shouldn’t approve the move without debate, “especially when Zoom is free to members.”

A vote was then called, with Andover Independents Party members Cllrs Coole, Rebecca Meyer and Christopher Ecclestone voting in favour.

They were opposed by the four other members of the committee, causing the plans to be rejected.

Speaking after the vote, Cllr Coole said: “We will now continue to burden the officers with the task of setting up Zoom meetings for members, or members will have to take a view on whether to use messenger or Zoom or some other alternative.”

Cllr Hughes disagreed, saying: “Zoom is free to everybody online.” Once you’ve signed up, you can have a 40 minute meeting with whoever you like.”

In response to concerns raised by Cllr Coole that 40 minutes was not long enough, he continued: “You can have as many meetings as you like. It’s really very easy, and we shouldn’t be burdening the taxpayer for an extra £120 a year for your benefit.”

Cllr Coole responded that the subscription would have been to “everybody’s benefit.”

The meeting then reached its two hour limit, and was closed.