The deputy leader of Bucks County Council has warned young people to speak up about local issues that affect them to avoid being sidelined by the over 65s who vote in greater numbers.
Mike Appleyard, who is also cabinet member for education and skills at the council, says the community risks alienating a whole generation of young people from decision-making over local issues unless local politicians take action to inspire them.
Mike said: “Young people need to speak up, otherwise as the public purse shrinks they will become side-lined in national and local government policies in favour of those who vote in greater numbers – the over 65s.”
Mr Appleyard will be reiterating this warning to councillors at next week’s meeting, where he will use a motion for debate as an opportunity to launch a campaign to reignite young people’s interest in local affairs in the run up to May.
He says this is critical to try to arrest a 50-year decline of 25% in the number of young voters, and if no action is taken to arrest the decline in the number of voters under 24, future policy and decision-making will unfairly favour the age groups who do turn out to vote.
He points to British Election Study figures that show the percentage of under-24s voting declined from 76% in 1964 to just over 51% in 2010, dipping to 38% in 2005.
Mike said: “This is seriously worrying. If we’re not inspiring them to vote in general elections, then they’re certainly not voting in local elections.
“This tells me local issues and local decision-making just aren’t on their radars. And we want them to make their voices heard.”
Mike will ask councillors whether they would do some research in their divisions to try to find out why young people have become disengaged with politics and local issues.
The responses, he says, will enable the council to work with young people in Buckinghamshire to design programmes that involve them in democracy.
He said: “I’m leaving it up to my colleagues to decide how they do this. They could speak to sixth formers at their local school or, better still for young people, get social media discussions going.”
Mike’s campaign echoes action by Buckingham MP and Commons Speaker John Bercow, who set up the national Digital Democracy Commission to help people better understand democracy, especially among disengaged young people aged 18 to 24.
Mike says the Speaker’s suggestion that people are alienated by jargon and practices of the House of Commons resonates strongly.
He feels Mr Bercow’s championship of democracy, aiming to enable everyone to understand what the Commons does, be fully interactive and digital, and provide a secure online voting option for all voters by 2020, has strong currency for his campaign.
Mike said: “We have a responsibility as a council to champion local democracy, to help people understand what we do, and to be a catalyst to help people of all ages participate.
“As members we have a duty to serve our communities, regardless of their political persuasion or their age.”
Student Craig Underwood from High Wycombe said: “Politics, both locally and nationally, aren’t directed at young people. They’re not interested in policies about pensions and healthcare.
“They want policies that address immediate issues, which affect them.”
Sixth-form student Sam Stuchbury, of Waddesdon, points to a number of key issues that would draw young people into the discussion forum, from student travel and employment, to stress, anxiety and depression.
He said: “More engagement needs to take place, and it’s probably because there aren’t many opportunities to get views across.
“If we were able to have a say in how things were shaped I could probably give a list of people who’d be willing to spend a few hours helping to shape decisions.”
Sam is convinced some of the main barriers to engaging with young people include a lack of understanding as to who represents whom, confusion over which organisation or body does what, and that the fact that people who represent them aren’t similar to them.
Mike says: ‘This is not necessarily about issues such as lowering the voting age, or simply making secure online voting available.
“This is about re-engaging with a lost generation of young voters and we want to work with our younger people to bring about an inclusive democracy in Buckinghamshire.
“Without action we may not only lose this generation of voters, but we could also lose a generation of people who could be our future local decision-makers.”