POLITICIANS are fond of saying that young people are the future – but they are also the present.
When we look at the world through the eyes of the next generation, we can better understand the scale of the challenges that we face as a nation. It also reminds us that, for their sake, we must leave our country in better shape than we found it.
It is vital that we give young people a stake in their future, even if they are not yet old enough to vote. This is why I have launched the Sheffield City Region’s first Youth Combined Authority – to give young people a say in how we build our communities and make our region one of the best places in the country to grow up.
The importance of engaging young people in our democracy should not be under-estimated. In the Sheffield City Region, they make up more than one fifth of our population but are not given a voice in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.
This shouldn’t be the case. Young people are the future workers that will pay taxes; the future commuters that will use public transport and services; and the future civic and business leaders whose efforts will cement our place in the world.
They are already making significant contributions to the places where they live: in business, in sport and in culture. And every year, when the UK Youth Parliament sits in the House of Commons, the chamber is less noisy; the young people listen to each other; and they look and sound like the country they represent.
In an increasingly fractious political climate where facts seem to be drowned out by anger and resentment, it is refreshing to see young people setting a shining example to our politicians in how to conduct tolerant, sensible and measured debate; leading on the pressing issues that they face.
Here in the Sheffield City Region, I regularly have the privilege of meeting talented young people bursting with enthusiasm and ambition to make their communities a better place to live.
Alex McDermott for example, a Member of Youth Parliament from our region, has been pro-actively campaigning against single-use plastic – and for a very good reason.
Because if we do not act now to tackle issues such as this, it is young people that will be left to clear up the mess. When given the chance, talented, forward-thinking people like Alex set a shining example to others in leading from the front.
It would be a missed opportunity to allow that potential to go untapped. It is the responsibility of my generation to prepare the next generation for the challenges that lie ahead – but we cannot do this without harnessing all the talents and potential that they have to offer; nor can we do this unless we give them a voice.
Youth councillors across our region are already working incredibly hard to make that voice heard. I want to give them an opportunity to work with me to build a region that is prepared to nurture their aspirations for the future. For us to succeed as a region, all our residents must be given the opportunity to go wherever their talents take them.
Later this month, 18 young men and women will come together to form the Sheffield City Region’s first Youth Combined Authority, which will reflect the full diversity of our region. At regular meetings, members will be given the opportunity to contribute to the work that the Sheffield City Region and I are doing on key areas such as transport and skills. They will also play a crucial role in identifying the issues that young people face, and where we need to do better to support them.
By listening to young people, I can better understand how my vision for our region can meet their expectations and match their aspirations.
And crucially, the Youth Combined Authority will give young people an opportunity to scrutinise the decisions that I take. I am sure that they will be keen to hold me to account.
I was elected on a manifesto to create a co-operative and inclusive economy that provides all our people with the opportunities that they deserve – and young people have a central role to play in that vision.
I believe that the very least we can do is give young people the means to go wherever they want to go in life.
But the very best we can do is to build a place that they want to stay to live, work and start families; a place in which they feel they have a stake. I am looking forward to working with them to ensure that, collectively, we do just that.
Dan Jarvis is mayor of the Sheffield City Region. He is also the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.