In the public sector, the future is today’s young generation. But a big challenge is getting young people into councils, either in officer roles or as elected members, but how can we promote local authorities to this generation?
Milton Keynes Council are doing just that by appointing a Youth Mayor, which aims to improve democratic participation among young people in the area.
Appointed for a one-year term, they will represent the young people of the area at civic events, including accompanying the Mayor of Milton Keynes to some engagements.
The Youth Mayor will be elected by Milton Keynes Youth Cabinet, which is made up of 36 local young people.
The authority passed a motion in January to implement this, with the aim of encouraging council officers to support the development of the youth democracy agenda in the borough, as well as participation in democracy generally.
Another thing that the council has agreed on is to look at the possibly of creating the role of a Youth Democracy Champion, which is something the authority is hoping to explore in more detail this summer.
Mayor of Milton Keynes, Councillor Mohammed Khan said that engaging with the youth of today is important to keep people in the town, as he says many leave to go to university and/or get jobs and never return.
Mayor Khan says the new role will also allow the council to understand their point of view more, rather than that of “old people” and that he would “like to see more young people participating, to see how democracy works locally”.
The council’s Youth Cabinet run annual campaigns in the borough and engage with councillors, but the authority believes that having a Youth Mayor will allow their campaigns to get more traction, especially with the general public.
In the borough, a pipeline between the Youth Cabinet and the full council is already beginning to emerge, as two of Milton Keynes’ 57 councillors were previously part of it.
As well as this, over the last couple of years, the age profile of the borough’s councillors has shifted drastically and now much more closely reflects the average of Milton Keynes’ residents.
After last year’s local elections, the new intake of councillors had an average age of 35 and the council is closing in on having 40% of its elected members being under the age of 40.
The authority believes that this is down to the connection that is now in place between younger councillors and young people.
Milton Keynes is probably best known across the UK as being one of the government’s new towns that was built in the 1960s as part of the New Towns Act of 1965, but stereotypes remain.
Mayor Khan says he wants to move away from the impression that Milton Keynes has across the country, such as around its number of roundabouts (of which there are 130) and the concrete cows.
Instead, Mayor Khan wants to promote it as a new city with new opportunities: “Our young people are growing. We’re a young city, a lot of things are happening. A brand-new university is going up, a lot of young entrepreneurs come into our city and I think our young people will play a big role.”
One thing that the Mayor currently does to get youngsters involved in local democracy is hosting a so-called ‘takeover day’, which sees a member of the Youth Cabinet become Mayor for the day and even gets to wear the Mayoral chain.
Mayor Khan explains last year’s takeover day, when a female member of the Youth Cabinet became Mayor, saying that she really enjoyed it and promoted her experience on social media, including TikTok.
He says this “showed us young people have an exciting role they can play here” and that getting young people involved can “make a difference to building a great city”.
With Milton Keynes tipped to be one of the fastest growing economies in the UK this year, there is a clear opportunity to get more young people who have just moved to the area to get involved in local democracy.
The council hopes to capitalise on the ‘youthfulness’ of the city’s residents, especially in terms of increasing voting turnout and getting younger people to turn up and speak at council meetings.
Mayor Khan says: “We want young people to have their say here, let them have their voice.
“I think having a Youth Mayor does set the precedent to young people, ‘if she or he can be mayor, I can be mayor, or I can come and make a difference’, you'd encourage more people to come and join.”
In a rallying call to young people in the borough, Mayor Khan says:
“We want you to stay here and contribute to the local economy and make their city. This is the next future for them.
“So let the youngsters come and take over, let them [experience the public sector] like we do.”
With cross-party support, Milton Keynes is taking more strides to get young people involved and in the words of Mayor Khan, it will benefit democracy and make it healthier and stronger.