Councillors have narrowly approved the appointment of an officer to serve Andover’s youth and communities.

A motion had been put forward by Councillor Jason Sangster and Cllr Richard Rowles to appoint a youth and community development officer “to work with local communities in Andover to identify local needs and develop strategic responses to these needs”.

A vote on the motion was tied, with Cllr Rowles subsequently using his casting vote to pass the motion, with a contract for the role to be decided on at a later date.

The motion was proposed at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, January 26, for the role to have a salary of £35,000 as well as a budget for the position. It was amended by Cllrs Sangster and Rowles to specify that the role would be for a contractor rather than a full member of staff.

Cllr Sangster said that he saw the role “as a beneficial and positive step to helping the youth of our town.”

He said: “I’ve given the topic a lot of thought, and even with the history and politics involved, the foundation of the idea is sound, and the benefit it’s bringing to our town and community override these concerns for me.”

Cllr David Coole raised some of these concerns, saying that the role “has not been job evaluated nor assessed for a correct salary payscale by an independent HR consultant”.

“On this basis alone cannot be approved,” he said, adding that the proposal also “undermines the HR consultant’s recommendations.”

He also noted that an incomplete staff structure review for 2020, which was suspended in light of grievance procedures at the town council, contained a provision for a similar role.

He said: “Had the staff structure 2020 review not been blocked, and had been approved by council in whatever form, the staff consultation exercise would have been completed and this post, or whatever version was approved, could have been filled by now.”

Cllr Christopher Ecclestone, meanwhile, queried under what powers the town council would be authorised to create such a role, saying that youth services are a matter for the county council.

He said: “We could buy a submarine and set up a navy for Andover, but it’s not within our powers and duties.”

Other councillors said that, while they were in favour in principle, the “lack of detail” in the current description concerned them.

Cllr Barbara Long said: “Our youth are important, they are our future, and I don’t think they are being served well at all. It seems that Hampshire County Council and Test Valley are cutting back on what they’re doing for the youth, so if we can do this to support the youth I think it would be a very good idea for us to do. What I am concerned about is the lack of detail on how long the contract would be”.

Cllr Rebecca Meyer said that while she thought it was “a really good idea”, she thought it could be setting the council up for “constructive dismissal” claims if the job overlapped with that of full time staff.

Cllr David Treadwell, meanwhile, suggested that more money could be used for community grants rather than funding an officer.

In response to concerns, Cllr Rowles said that the idea was an opportunity to “save our town” by appointing an officer.

He said: “Even before Covid, Andover faced huge challenges with our communities and our young people.”

He noted that a contract for the role would need to be approved at full council, as well as any bids for it from interested parties.

He continued: “This grant money has been sat around for ages and hardly anyone has used it. There is a ticking time bomb related to mental health and social cohesion in Andover.

“You don’t have to listen to me, you don’t have to agree with me, you don’t have to like me but what you should is listen to the people. If you don’t, you will never get elected again.”

Cllr Coole then proposed an amendment to defer a decision on the role until a later council meeting, allowing for more detail to be included in the proposals. This vote tied, with Cllr Rowles using his casting vote as chairman to defeat the amendment.

An vote then proceeded on the motion itself, which again tied, with Cllrs Rowles, Long, Sangster, Lauren Banville and Luigi Gregori voting in favour. A casting vote was again used to break the tie, approving the motion.

Work to draw up a contract for the role will now take place and be considered at a future meeting of the town council.