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Digital Switch For Ashburton’s Youth Voice

There is optimism that the Ashburton District’s youth will spend some time on their digital devices engaging in the democratic process.

The Ashburton Youth Council was disbanded in December in favour of using digital engagement tools and resurrecting the annual youth forum to capture the youth voice.

Ashburton District Council democracy and engagement group manager Toni Durham said the new digital engagement tool was launched in February.

“An online ‘youth hub’ was established, a digital space for young people to discuss local issues with other young people in our district.”

As it is the same tool being used for the long-term plan (LTP) consultation, the youth forum is sitting behind the LTP consultation, which has priority until Sunday (April 28), she said.

But the youth voice hasn’t been ignored.

As part of the LTP engagement, the council has held sessions at Mount Hutt College, Ashburton College, and Ashburton Christian School to discuss the issues and concerns future ratepayers may have with the 10-year plan, Durham said.

Ashburton Christian School students contemplating the Ashburton District Council's long-term plan at a recent engagement sessions. Photo: Supplied

When the LTP consultation window closes on April 28, the online youth hub will be promoted via social media, schools, youth-focused community organisations and the wider community “to attract a wider cross-section of young people”.

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The youth forum will return in term 3, between July and September, Durham said,

“This will be similar to the youth forums held in the past when schools were invited to send a delegation of young people to present to council and talk directly with Councillors.”

The youth council previously had an annual budget of $12,000 and was supported by council officers.

The digital tool and holding the youth forum are covered by existing budgets, Durham said.

Under the Local Government Act, councils need to account for the interests of their future communities and consider the views of people affected by their decisions.

Of the 67 territorial authorities in New Zealand, 34 have youth councils to fulfil that requirement.

Following in Ashburton’s footsteps, Whanganui District Council is proposing to cut its youth council which costs $51,000 per year and the number of youth councillors has declined over time.

Some councils that don’t have formed youth advisory panels, which sit alongside panels for seniors and ethnic communities.

In a further development, a local not-for-profit organisation had reached out about forming a youth advisory group, Durham said.

“Council is working alongside this organisation and will provide local civics and governance advice to the youth advisory group once formed.”

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