The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) says it wants to "see the world through the eyes" of young people - after its board approved funding for a new Youth Combined Authority (YCA).
It comes after the WMCA board said it would accept the recommendations set out in its Leadership Commission’s Leaders Like You report, published in June 2018.
Now the plans are approved, up to 30 young people aged 16 to 25 will be recruited to advise and guide WMCA decisions with their unique input.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street (left) with Anita Bhalla OBE (centre) and young people at the launch of the Leaders Like You report
Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, said: "The West Midlands has the youngest, most diverse population of any combined authority area, and we want to make sure we give this important section of our community a voice.
"And we want to go further than that. We’ll empower the YCA to decide how it is run, what issues it looks at, and how it works to inform the WMCA to influence and shape policy."
Figures show 21% of the West Midlands' population is under the age of 16, and there are 377,000 young people aged 16 to 24 in the WMCA seven met area.
Section five of the Leaders Like You recommendations stated: "It is critical that more is done to raise levels of aspiration for young people in our marginalised communities. We recommend the creation of a Youth Combined Authority, working in partnership with relevant youth organisations, to bring young people from all parts of our region together to build future political leadership capability and help us see the world through their eyes."
Cllr Syeda Khatun, deputy leader of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, who presented the report to the WMCA board, said: "Young people will help breathe fresh life into the WMCA. Their unique view of the region will be an important asset as we seek to make decisions to improve the lives of all our residents.
"We look forward to hearing what the priority areas are for our young people, and taking their views and feedback on board to help inform our decision-making and programmes."
The report approved by board states: "The organisation will recruit a membership of 20-30 people between the age of 16-25 that reflects a balance of gender, ethnicity, and geography, and meets other criteria including representation from Children in Care Councils and Care Leavers Forum, those living with chronic conditions and disability, young parents and those who are LGBT+."
The YCA will be given a budget of £7,000 for the year – and while it will not take decisions on behalf of the WMCA, it will have a role advising and challenging the authority on key policy and will be given 'Observer' status on the WMCA board.¹
There are also plans for senior leadership and managers to receive mentoring from members of the YCA, to improve the way they work with and for young people.
Once the YCA is set up, the WMCA will appoint an established, independent youth organisation to work with the YCA to understand regional priorities and set out a programme of work for the year.
It is expected that the YCA will meet four to six times a year, with informal meetings being encouraged in between.
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the WMCA, already has a Youth Forum, with 90 members aged 12 to 24 years old, and has been consulting with the group for the past five years. This has already led to improvements in transport services for young people – including the fee for 16 to 24-year-old travelcards being waived entirely in 2018.
The WMCA board approved funding of £50,000 to run the YCA for a year. That includes a small amount (£1,600) to help cover transport costs for YCA members.
The WMCA Constitution explains Observers as: "The Authority may invite Observers which are not Constituent Councils or Non-Constituent Councils to become Observers of the Authority providing that they comply with Standing Order 29.5.
"Observer status confers no legal status and is an arrangement between the Authority and a relevant Member of the Constituent Councils and/or the Non-Constituent Councils with the aim of promoting a shared strategic approach to joint working in the development of significant policy issues for the Authority Area."