Youth-inclusive decision-making is about more than being in the room

Blog by Councillor Brigid Jones, WMCA portfolio holder for inclusive communities

On International Youth Day, I wanted to reflect on the important step the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has taken in launching its new Young Combined Authority (YCA).

Of people living in the West Midlands, 21% are under sixteen, with 40% of Birmingham residents aged under twenty-five. Yet the youth and diversity of our communities has not always been represented by our region's leadership.

The new and diverse Young Combined Authority is part of the solution.

YCA members will hold their own meetings and have a voice at WMCA Board, our decision-making body. We will enable them to influence policies that will shape the future of the West Midlands. We want them to tell us if we need to shift our focus and help us see the world through their eyes.

Establishing the YCA will be a chance to further open our democratic processes. We hope that the members will help us engage with the young people who are in education, work or at home caring for a child or a relative – those who are not yet in the boardrooms and committees today. Our ambition is to ensure that devolution does not stop at the CA's office.

It is incredibly exciting to see the level of interest that young people have shown in being part of the YCA. As is having the support of Young Giant (Beatfreeks), who will help us deliver on this appetite for change.

Amerah Saleh, general manager at Young Giant – the organisation who will support the YCA – agrees on the need for a new approach.

She said: "We are so excited about the range of applications we have received. Young people in the region are looking for opportunities to influence, support and be engaged in institutions. The YCA is proof that young people are not hiding away from being heard. More spaces, opportunities and doors need to be open for young people to feel heard by 'power'."

This year, the theme for International Youth Day is transforming education.

The WMCA is playing our role in this: boosting apprenticeships, connecting young people to training and employment and focusing on future growth sectors. And, my Inclusive Communities Portfolio is a commitment to ensuring that all young people can access these new opportunities and develop their aspirations.

But we have a lot to learn from our young citizens too.

Birmingham Youth Climate Strike are a great example of this. Their speech at WMCA Board’s Annual General Meeting in June this year inspired us to declare a Climate Emergency. This step change shows that it is not enough to have young people in the room or ask for their feedback. To be inclusive we need to give young people a genuine platform to voice their concerns and vision for the future - and commit to genuinely listen and constructively work together. Ultimately, we need to ensure that democracy is something young people can feel empowered to access directly. YCA members over 18 can vote and stand for office in their own right.

Which is why we will ask and support the YCA members to mentor those who have influence on the WMCA Board.

So, on this International Youth Day 2019, we are looking to a future where young people co-design the West Midlands’ future democracy with us - to empower the next generation of leaders to guide us in building the future for the next generation of citizens.

It’s hard not to be excited about that.

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