Put simply, a Young Mayor is a young person who is elected by other young people to represent them. They are either directly elected by their peers or elected from a youth council or cabinet.
The Young Mayor scheme was pioneered in Middlesbrough in 2002 as another method of youth democracy and participation (alongside side youth councils and the UK Youth Parliament).
Benefits for children and young people
The key ingredient is that it passes the first test of any democratic process: it is clear, simple and young people understand it. It takes less than 10 minutes to explain and the reaction is universally positive. Once the process begins – with awareness raising and calls for candidates to put themselves forward – we find a full and representative field of young people prepared to take the big step of putting themselves in front of their contemporaries.
The fact that young people do not generally have a lot of knowledge about formal political processes should not be confused with lack of intelligence or indeed interest. Young Mayor Schemes are demonstrating that they can become important vehicles for giving a focus and a cutting edge to a range of engagement and participatory initiatives. Candidates who stand and fail to be elected – far from being alienated – are keen to participate as young advisors or as part of a youth council.
There are personal benefits, in skills and experiences gained, for the Young Mayor, Deputy, Youth Council members, advisers, as well as the candidates and nominees via the election process. Beyond this there are the young people acting informally as election agents, campaign managers and of course the thousands of young people who can be touched by the nomination process – and then onto all those young people enjoying the educational experience of casting a vote.
Young Mayors link individual – and communities of – young people directly with their elected representatives. Young Mayors increase the influence that young people have on local decision-making – direct access to a high profile young person who has been democratically elected across the borough is a powerful tool to change the minds of opinion-formers.
Properly resourced and supported, Young Mayor Schemes typically achieve election turnouts approaching 50% - the envy of their adult counterparts. The March 2009 election in North Tyneside achieved a 59% turnout.
Young Mayors are a route to strengthening local accountability for young people and a route to improving local public services. They can further and foster understanding among young people of the borough’s governance and democratic structures. Young Mayors can help to speed the modernisation of local government and spearhead change towards more user-driven public services.
Benefits for adult decision-makers
Young Mayors raise the visibility of local young people and awareness of the issues affecting young people. They are a high profile demonstration that the local authority is serious about changing the lives of young people in the borough. A Young Mayor acts as a stimulus for corporate commitment to and action on involving and taking account of young people within an authority. The act of having a Young Mayor crystallises the need to reference young people across services and departments.
Properly supported, a Young Mayor can have a large influence on the lives of local young people. Individual Young Mayors will by nature be more reactive to annual concerns during their cycle in office. Long term the schemes are proactive and transformational – bringing about a culture change amongst young people who see a local mandate fulfilled and associate this with democratic accountability.
The legitimacy of elected politicians is significantly enhanced when acting on behalf of young people in authorities where there is a Young Mayor. Effective youth democratic structures grow a mandate as much as the perception of those structures. A strong Mayor or Leader will ensure they have regular and direct contact with a Young Mayor so that they speak for young people and effect meaningful change – legitimacy flows both ways in this relationship.
Adult politicians benefit from the raised profile of young people’s issues and are better able to serve those residents who historically have little voice and influence; yet live in the area, contribute to the local economy and raise educational standards as they travel through their young lives.
The British Youth Council is the National Youth Council of the UK.
A youth-led charity, we empower young people aged 25 and under to influence and inform the decisions that affect their lives. We support young people to get involved in their communities and democracy locally, nationally and internationally, making a difference as volunteers, campaigners, decision-makers and leaders.
We are young people - and our charity aims to help other young people, whatever their background or barriers they face, to make the world a better place for us all.
BYC runs a number of youth-led networks and programmes - including the UK Youth Parliament, Young Mayor Network, Local Youth Council Network, National Scrutiny Group and Youth Select Committee - which encourage young people to get involved in democracy and campaign to bring about change.