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Lochaber’s Esme Leitch is at the forefront of a major new study into engagement by young people within Scottish local authorities.
Esme, 20, from Duror, who was inducted last year as Highland Council Youth Convenor, features in the recently published ‘Being Heard’ study.
The report gives, for the first time, details of what is happening within Scotland’s 32 councils when it comes to young people’s participation and engagement with decision makers.
The report’s authors, Orkney councillor John Ross Scott and Kristopher Leask, say the aim of the report is to fill the void of unawareness that has led to young people in certain areas being left behind in local policy making.
Mr Scott said he had been very impressed with Ms Leitch: ‘Esme is really special and a great asset to the Highlands,’ he told the Lochaber Times.
‘Being a spokesperson for young people for such a vast area cannot be easy but she has a great personality, honed probably by her radio experience, and with assistance from others, she is doing her job well and given us an insight into what could be achieveable across Scotland.
‘We could not believe the youth convener’s post – which allows a young person into the heart of decision making – has not in the 13 years it has been operated in the Highlands, been trialled elsewhere.
‘One concern might be that councils find coping with the administration of the role too time consuming but thanks to Hi-Life Highland it is achievable.
‘But there other areas could duplicate this.
‘We thank Esme for helping us understand the role of the youth convener. We are sure she has a bright future.’
Esme said: ‘I don’t like it when people say they are keen to give young people a voice. Young people already have a voice.
‘I don’t see this as being about adults giving young people a voice. It is more about adults listening more actively to the voices that are already there.’
A former community presenter with Nevis Radio in Fort William and a member in 2017-18 of the Young Women’s Lead Committee
at the Scottish Parliament, Esme told the report’s authors that space needed to be found to allow young people the time to engage in important discussions.
‘Young people run in different circles from adults. We communicate differently and while we are at school they are at work, so it is important space is found – possibly in the evening – to link up, so evening meetings may be a way forward to attract young people to come to the table and engage in important discussions,’ she said.
‘There also really needs to be a change when it comes to who sits around the table. We cannot, for instance, continue to have entire community councils made up exclusively of older people.
‘In some countries, they have legislated youth quotas which reserve seats for young people in parliament. Obviously, we cannot take away the public’s democratic right to choose candidates, but legislation of some type may help address what appears to me to be an imbalance across age ranges.’