I am a young person doing work experience with the LGA. I wanted to blog about young people’s involvement with politics and local authorities, and I thought a good way to start this off would be an interview with my friend that actually is involved directly with the local authority, through the Kent Youth County Council. Although her view is only personal and certainly will not reflect other young people’s experiences, it is probably a good example of the challenges involved, from both sides, of young people ‘having a say’ in the way their country is run.
How did you get involved with KYCC?
There was a poster on the noticeboard at school. I wrote down the website just because it looked interesting. When I got home I looked it up and thought-why not?
I had to write a manifesto with three things I wanted to achieve by being on the council, and through that was shortlisted. There was an election for three places on the council from my borough, and I managed to get one of the places.
What is the set-up of the monthly meetings?
They are from 10am to 4pm once a month, with leaders that chaired and sat on discussions. There are three campaign groups; transport, employment and things to do for youths. I was on the activities panel, and we discussed the media’s view of young people, along with improving services for youths.
What did you achieve in your group?
There was one scheme that nearly took off but ultimately failed. We wanted a discount card for young people to get money off activities in their local area. This would prevent kids from ‘hanging around the neighbourhood’ and stop them from causing crime due to boredom. We applied for a grant from the government and got one for £500 through a youth scheme to print the cards, but this was nowhere near enough as companies that run things like leisure centres had no incentive to do this for free, and this amount of money couldn’t print a card for every teenager in Kent! This was upsetting as we were encouraged to make a difference and come up with ideas, but weren’t taken seriously enough to actually carry these out.
We also drafted up the ideal anti-bullying policy, as most schools’ ones are really vague. We wanted something that could be properly implemented by councils. This also failed.
What was your experience with the other councillors?
KYCC isn’t very well advertised, and the only people that really know about it are people in the council. This means that the elections aren’t particularly legitimate as there aren’t enough voters to balance out the people that just vote for their friends. Obviously this gave the problem of basically having people there that didn’t deserve to be there. Most of them were of relatively low intelligence, for instance the level of ideas that came out was something along the lines of “We should send a chocolate bar to every young person once a month.”
Not to sound discriminatory, but a lot of special needs young people were on the council; in fact the majority of the council members had some sort of special need. This meant that council meetings were more about making sure everyone was comfortable and ‘having fun’ than actually debating and having intelligent discussion. Of course people from different groups should have a role in government, but I signed up for this to meet other teenagers that are also interested in politics and issues that affected young people, so I was disappointed that disabled people were tokenised and this sort of ruined the concept for me.
What are some other issues with the youth council and how could it be improved?
As I said, many of the youth councillors weren’t able to have high level discussions and just weren’t interested. They would cause trouble and the leaders had no idea how to deal with this. Many stopped coming to meetings, and those that did wouldn’t do any work at home or outside of the 5 hours we met per month, which just isn’t enough time. It all felt a bit pointless as after a bit we realised we actually had no say, while we were led on to believe the opposite. I think a scheme like this is good idea in theory, but in practice it needs to be better controlled and managed.
The advertising for KYCC is terrible, which, as I explained earlier, meant that elections just didn’t work. There needs to be some sort of campaign through social media which shows other youths they can vote. And if more people know about it, there will be more competition for places, which would mean there would actually be councillors that are intelligent and motivated. It would also make it more legitimate so we could have credibility.
I don’t think that the council accurately mimicked real politics as we didn’t engage with any other youth councils from other counties. I think it would be more successful if we could build up relationships with youth schemes in nearby constituencies.
What are some positive aspects of KYCC?
If you actually get involved and pay attention, you can learn quite a lot about how laws and government schemes start out. Although it didn’t represent a political party, it encouraged me to become more informed about politics, and what I really believe. A lot of MPs and other figures came in to talk to us, and these speeches were inspiring. In terms of what we achieved, my committee, although a lot was discussed, didn’t actually manage to push forward any of the ideas we had.
One thing that I wanted to achieve was to encourage the media to publish stories about good things that teenagers do. Pretty much all of the stories you read about teenagers in newspapers are negative; mugging people, bullying, overweight, uneducated, underage drinking and pregnancy. It paints us all with the same brush when that’s only a tiny minority. But this was also never realised because nobody else in my team supported this, to be honest they probably identified more with the ‘minority’! However the transport team did quite well in trying to reduce travel costs on trains for 16-19 year olds, and the employment committee managed to publish a leaflet about giving teenagers a chance to work.
I think that it is a good experience to have; I don’t regret it as it will look good on my CV and make me stand out to universities and future employers. I think the concept, trying to give young people a say is a great one but the realisation of it, in this instance, is generally unsuccessful.