Young fight shy of local democracy

INVOLVING YOUNG people in local democratic decision-making is an uphill struggle, according to community councils who responded to a Scottish Executive consultation on making the 1,200 councils more effective. The executive is now considering a total of 27 recommendations and will make its response in the spring.

Many of the 261 councils that took part said they had not tried to involve young people because they assumed the youngsters "would not be interested in joining for reasons of having other commitments and interests or because they would be deterred by the councils' lack of effectiveness or power."

Councils that had tried to involve young people said they had found it "a difficult task". They had approached schools but could find "no interest from pupils".

Some councils had, however, created youth group sections, made youth issues a standing item on their agendas and invited young people to take part in consultative workshops. Others had got involved in primary school gala days or attended forums where they could find out more about what young people were interested in. Those councils had found an improvement in communication about youth concerns.

One expert cautioned that young people could "smell" tokenism. Henry Maitles, head of curricular studies at Strathclyde University, said young people suspected that, by becoming involved in community councils, they could end up just being bodies on committees.

"The experience of pupil councils in schools has shown them this could happen," Mr Maitles said.

But it was a myth that young people were apathetic about political issues.

"They will readily get involved in single-issue activities and campaigns such as a fair trade group, which appears to them to have much more immediacy in terms of results."

Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council has developed a training pack called Bored Meetings, aimed at supporting the involvement of young people in community and planning groups.

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