By Cllr Lucy Atkinson,
City Councillor for Lancaster University & Scotforth Rural
I was elected to Lancaster City Council in 2015 at the age of just 18 – the first time I could vote, it was for myself. I was inspired by other women who had got involved with politics at a young age like the fabulous Cat Smith MP, who was the Labour candidate in the 2015 Parliamentary election at the same time.
As we all know; Labour did not win that General Election. In 2015 the polls said we’d do so much better, and despite the progress we made in last year’s General Election, we are still under the thumb of a Tory Government.
This year, whilst in Parliament Labour will still have to occupy the opposition benches a little longer; we have a real opportunity to make more progress in councils and Local Authorities across England. On Lancaster City Council the Labour Group holds a slim majority which means thankfully we have been able to mitigate some of the damage caused by nearly 8 years of terrible Conservative policy on the communities we represent. We have implemented policies as a group such as council tax support for the lowest income residents to try and combat the harms caused by Universal Credit as well as investment in public leisure services and finding innovative ways to combat police cuts that threatened public security in our city.
If you are reading this, it is probably already obvious to you that Labour councillors can make real change for the better in our communities and you may be wondering why the fact that I was elected when I was 18 is relevant?
Well, the average age of a Councillor is 60 – which not only puts me in the minority of people who are not over 40, but also this is clearly not representative of the population. But young people don’t just avoid standing in Local Elections; there is still terrible turnout for people under 25 at the polling stations. The 2017 General Election saw a big boost to the numbers of young people voting, but the Electoral Commission has warned that still young people are being engaged in our local elections.
Councils are at the heart of a community. The policies implemented by them effect what we see on our streets every day and so many young people are directly affected by the decisions we take in the council chamber – so why are young people leaving such important decisions to such an unrepresentative group of people?
Change is possible.
Young councillors like me do exist, and in Lancaster we have five Labour City Councillors under the age of 25. This has enabled us to stand up for young people across the city, which is particularly important given that it there are two universities in the area we cover.
Over the last four years I have worked a lot with Lancaster Student’s Union to ensure that new housing developments surrounding the SU Night Club do not result in the club being shut down due to noise complaints. Not only does this benefit Lancaster students who regularly use the night club, but also the night time economy on which many jobs in the city rely on. Young councillors in Lancaster have been part of a Night Time Economy Task Group, which sought to ensure students were not disadvantaged by the Local Plan and successfully implemented changes to make the council friendly to all genders.
I firmly believe that having representatives who are students or young members means not only are we represented better, but that local government will actually have our best interests at heart.
Until the next General Election with the Tories in Westminster it is vital to ensure that young people’s voices are heard. So I would encourage young people and students to run for council wherever the opportunity arises. Labour Students as an organisation has so many fantastic activists, and I know that many of you will be out campaigning for Labour victories this May, but I’m keen to see many of you from student halls get into Town Halls and join me in representing our communities.