Local Democracy Week will break new ground later this month when, for the first time, MPs will play an active part in a number of events. That – and the fact that almost all English and Welsh local councils will be involved – has led the Local Government Association to start now on planning a series of events during next year.The MPs, together with local councillors and members of the European Parliament, have been challenged to meet younger people from their wards and constituencies to find out what issues are important to them locally and nationally and to discover how these can be addressed.
Local Democracy Week will run from October 18th and a number of MPs and MEPs have already agreed to go back to school on October 22nd to meet young people there. Others have opted to meet young people away from the school environment in youth clubs, YMCA groups, council offices, shopping centres and coffee shops. Then organisers believe the events will help to bridge the gap between young people and politicians trying to represent their views. They say that by getting to know younger constituents and ward members and their needs better they will be able to reflect the opinions of all those in their communities.
Local authorities and organisations such as the UK Youth Parliament, British Youth Council and the YMCA will also play a part in helping to increase young people’s understanding of local democracy and the importance of making their voices heard on the political platform. Only 31 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2001 general election compared to 68% in 1997. The fear is that if this continues fewer than a quarter of young voters will turn out at future elections. The Local Government Association says it is clear that young people need to be re-engaged in the political process on a national and local level.
In view of the increased level of involvement by national and European politicians and the fact that almost every council in England and Wales will be taking part in this month’s event, the LGA is building on this interest and enthusiasm and is already planning future activities throughout 2005. The plan is to have more events regionally and locally across the country to encourage greater interest and involvement in local issues and politics.