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Young Orcadians Not ‘Being Heard’

“Councillors and officials in all agencies in Orkney need to get more involved.” Kristopher Leask

Orkney Islands Council has not progressed in its engagement with young people according to a new report published by John Ross Scott and Kristopher Leask.

Being Heard John Ross Scott and Kristopher Leask

Authors of the report Kristopher Leask and John Ross Scott

The report is an update on the extensive work which went into producing the document Being Heard.

The report shows that overall local authorities in Scotland, even those that had to make cuts in services, made progress during 2019 towards improving the role of young people in decision-making.

Orkney Islands Council along with West Lothian and East Lothian Councils have made little progress in reaching that aim.

The report states that in Orkney:

“despite a valiant efforts by its small Community, Learning and Development (CLD) team that received a 18% (£50,000) cut in budget over 2019, evidence of progress is limited.”

Unlike other councils across Scotland, Orkney Islands Council does not have young people participating as ex officio members on any of its committees or sub-committees, nor has it officially appointed a Councillor as its Young People’s Champion to speak on behalf of and work with young people locally.

OIC  also made cuts in staffing to young people’s services

The budget cut reduced the council’s staff from five to four Full Time Equivalent workers and the Youth Work budget fell from £48,900 to £39,200, a reduction of almost 20%.

OIC  has not established a Champions Board for care-experienced and looked after young people and  no young people serve on the county’s multi-agency Orkney Community Planning Partnership.

There was quite a fanfare of optimism in Orkney when it held its first ‘Growing up in Orkney’ Conference’ and it went on to hold two more. The most recent in 2019 you can read about here: Heart and Head: Growing Up In Orkney 3

“It takes a whole island to raise a child” , Davy Clubb

All three conferences were very positive experiences but if nothing changes in how things are done in Orkney to involve young people more in decision making then they have failed to make an impact.

Co-author of the report, Orkney Councillor  John Ross Scott commented that he is embarrassed by the OIC’s poor showing in the report.

He said:

“We used the same format of evidence collection for all councils to ensure there was no bias in the study and we found that there were little differences between work being undertaken on Mainland Scotland and its islands.

“But, when it comes to Orkney, you only need to look at our neighbours in Shetland to see how good engagement with young people can be.

“It is clear throughout both our Being Heard studies that  success in meaningful engagement comes through leading Councillors, Chief Executives and officials taking a front line involvement. That way messages are not lost.

“The one thing our original report could not show was the speed at which progress was being made. This report give clear indication that progress is being made in most councils although there remains a lack of national leadership when it comes to young people engagement.

“The Scottish Government and CoSLA are without  a unified approach and Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament during 2019 failed to make their mark in bringing about the necessary changes required.”

The report states:

Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament have over 2019 failed to make their mark in bringing about the necessary changes required.

In some areas there is a clear disconnect between Councillors and young people with many councillors still dubious about the benefits of inclusion.

Commenting on ‘Being Heard’, Minister for Children and Young People in the Scottish Government,  Maree Todd said:

“I was pleased to be able to contribute to this report and thank John and Kristopher for their work on it. I am delighted to see that progress is being made in many areas across Scotland to include the voices of young people, although there is clearly still work to be done.

“As a government, we are committed to ensuring that children and young people are at the heart of decisions which affect them and want them to have the confidence and skills to participate in shaping the future Scotland they want to live in.

“This is demonstrated by our world-leading annual Cabinet meeting with children and young people, our work to develop a strategic approach to participation as outlined in the Action Plan for progressing children’s human rights, and our commitment to incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law.

“We work closely with organisations like Young Scot, the Scottish Youth Parliament, the Children’s Parliament and Children in Scotland to ensure we  gain the views from children and young people on issues that matter to them and will consider the report findings.”

Reacting to the findings in the update about Orkney , co-author, Kristopher Leask, of Hinderafiold in St Ola, and a student at St Andrews University  said:

“The local CLD team face a challenging task in Orkney in having to work with Councillors and officials who do not want to give up any of their powers. The inclusion of young people in local decision making is working well elsewhere and makes councils more accountable to those they represent, many of whom are ignored or excluded.

“Councillors and officials in all agencies in Orkney need to get more involved. By refusing to include young people in decision making shows that their talk about how fantastic Orkney’s young people are is tokenistic and that they do not have any real interest in making local decision-making more open, democratic and representative.”

The updated report makes 10 recommendations.

Being Heard recommendations

  • All Councils should have a councillor designated as a Young People’s Champion or Spokesperson to attend Youth Council meetings and seminars and articulate the views of young people at the heart of decision-making.
  • All councils should develop a mentoring programme for young people participating in policy and decision-making.
  • The 1948 Education Act that allows three religious representatives to serve on Education Committees needs to be revised. The priority should be in allowing stakeholders like teachers, parents and students more say – if only in an ex-officio capacity – at the front line of decision making.
  • Councils should provide all MSYPs in their area and local Youth Councils with all council agenda items coming before committees that are deemed of importance to young people and allow time for comment.
  • The Scottish Youth Parliament should be more proactive in ensuring that Young People Engagement happens at local government level.
  • Councils should actively encourage and assist young people over the age of 18 to stand for public office.
  • All Councils should allow young people a full say in decision-making either at committee level or through a means that allows them to feed their views into the process.
  • Two student representatives should sit on each of Scotland’s Community Planning Partnerships.
  • The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities should take more of a leadership role in ensuring all Scottish Councils meaningfully engage with young people.
  • Chief Executives and lead executives directors and councillors need to take more of an active role in Young People Engagement.

You can view the updated report here: Being Heard 2 Update of Report

‘Being Heard: One Year On’ was scheduled to be launched at an Action For Local Youth Voice Empowerment UK (ALYVE UK) summit at Stirling University on March 28th but was postponed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Both authors believe that the New Normal after Covid-19 could be a test bed for improving young people engagement as more adults and lead decision makers move into a new age of communication technology that young people are already well acclimatised to.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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