What’s so great about a Young Mayor?
When I was first asked whether I thought campaigning to get a Birmingham Young Mayor was a good idea I was, shall we say, unconvinced. ‘A Young Mayor?’ I thought, ‘Isn’t that just nominal role local councils employ to give them the appearance of tackling ‘youth issues’ without actually having to bother engaging with the people and problems?’. But rather than just shoot down the idea I agreed to do some research and, much to my surprise, I’ve found myself a convert.
So, for all you other sceptics out there here are some excellent reasons why having a Young Mayor is a great idea:
1) They have real influence over the Youth Agenda
Young Mayor’s already exist in the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets as well as in North Tyneside in Newcastle. The age range of Young Mayors varies from location to location but generally falls between 14 and 18 years old. In each case Young Mayor’s function as far more than just a nominal role and many have real influence over the youth agenda. In Newham, for instance, the Young Mayor and their team have an annual budget of £25,000 to spend handling youth issues. Newham has a population of around 240,100. Birmingham has a population of approximately 1,036,900, over four times that of the London Borough. The equivalent budget, then, of a Birmingham Young Mayor could be in the region of £100,000, giving them real potential to make a difference to the lives of young people in the city.
Now, given that if we are successful in getting a Birmingham Young Mayor we don’t actually know what budget they will actually be given by the powers that be it’s also important to make clear that a Young Mayor’s influence goes beyond just their financial resources. In Lewisham the Young Mayor is regularly consulted on a wide range of issues from regeneration of the area, to homelessness and the borough’s customer service strategy to electoral services. The Young Mayor’s voice counts and they have a real say in the council’s decision making process.
2) They have a vast support network
Young Mayor’s don’t act alone. In Lewisham the Young Mayor is supported by a Deputy Young Mayor and 25 Young Advisors. There is also a Young Citizens Panel consisting of over 600 members who discuss issues on online platforms and are regularly consulted on various subjects and invited to attend an assortment of events and training opportunities throughout the year. There are also two full-time adult members of staff in the Young Mayor’s Office including the Advisor to the Young Mayor who supports the Young Mayor, co-ordinates their diary and helps them achieve their goals during their time in office. In short, far from being just a random young person sitting in the back of council meetings, a Young Mayor is surrounded by a vast support network which aids them in their bid to improve the lives of young people in their area.
3) It’s a great way for getting young people involved in politics
Right now most under 18’s don’t really care about politics, and why would they? They can’t vote and rarely see MP’s and decision makers that they can relate to. In recent years we’ve seen a worrying decline in the proportion of citizens voting in local and general elections. If we wish to continue to say we live in a democracy where the views of the many, not just the engaged minority, are heard something must be done to reverse this trend.
Young Mayoral elections generally have a voter turnout of around 50%. This is well above many local election turnout rates and even many full Mayoral elections. In many areas all local residents aged 11-18 can vote. Most voting is done through schools but provision is made for young residents who either go to school outside of the area or are not in education to use postal voting.
In Lewisham the elections are run in a way which mirror adult elections with voting booths, ballot boxes and electoral staff stationed at each school and college during voting day. Their Young Mayor elections also take place during Local Democracy week each year and Voter registration, for 16-18 year olds, is promoted at the same time.
The aim is that, through getting young people interested and used to taking part in voting whilst still at school, they will continue this interest into their adult lives.
On another level Young Mayor schemes offer a fantastic opportunity for a selection of young people to take on real roles of responsibility within our city’s decision making bodies. It gives young people a chance to become part of the establishment and a chance for their peers to see figureheads that they can actually relate to.
By getting young people involved in politics in this way we hope to see the Young Mayors of today become the Mayors, MP’s and Councillors of tomorrow.
For more information on existing Young Mayor models check out:
Or for information on the Lewisham model: