Lochaber’s Esme at fore­front of new youth study

The Oban Times - - NEWS - By Mark En­twistle men­[email protected]­times.co.uk

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 Con­vener, 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 giv­ing us an in­sight into what could be achiev­able 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 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.’

Be­ing Heard au­thors John Ross Scott, right, and Kristo­pher Leask with High­land Coun­cil leader Mar­garet David­son.

Esme Leitch, cen­tre, with High­land coun­cil con­vener Bill Lob­ban and coun­cil leader Mar­garet David­son at her in­duc­tion last year.

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