Youth parliament shows the way forward for Sunderland

Young People's State of the City Debate 2011in the Council Chamber of Sunderland Civic Centre. Below, Sunderland City Council portfolio holder for children and learning city Coun Pat Smith, shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson MP, Sunderland executive director children's services Keith Moore and chair of Sunderland Youth Parliament David Crone.

Young People's State of the City Debate 2011in the Council Chamber of Sunderland Civic Centre. Below, Sunderland City Council portfolio holder for children and learning city Coun Pat Smith, shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson MP, Sunderland executive director children's services Keith Moore and chair of Sunderland Youth Parliament David Crone.

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FROM health to employment, young people from across Sunderland gathered to discuss the issues that matter to them.

 Delegates from the city’s schools and youth clubs took part in the Young People’s State of City Debate at Sunderland Civic Centre, which this year saw a record attendance.

Left to right; Sunderland City Portfolio Holder for Children and Learning City Coun Pat Smith, Shadow Children's Minister Sharon Hodgson MP, Sunderland Executive Director Children's services Keith Moore and Chair of Sunderland Youth Parliament David Crone. Young People's State of the City Debate 2011

Left to right; Sunderland City Portfolio Holder for Children and Learning City Coun Pat Smith, Shadow Children's Minister Sharon Hodgson MP, Sunderland Executive Director Children's services Keith Moore and Chair of Sunderland Youth Parliament David Crone. Young People's State of the City Debate 2011

 For the sixth year in a row, young people came together to discuss their concerns and experiences on health, sex education, student rights and discrimination.

But after much discussion and a vote at the end, it was decided that the issue of careers was the area they thought was most important to them.

This means it will now progress on to the full council for consideration and will be a main focus for the Youth Parliament over the year ahead.

David Crone, 16, who is chairman of Sunderland’s Youth Parliament, said: “The State of the City Debate is an extremely engaging and exciting opportunity for young people in Sunderland.

“They get the chance to have their voices heard and respected by some of the most senior individuals within local government on a variety of issues affecting them.

“They are presented with a real chance to make positive change within their communities, and with such a diverse cross-section of the city’s young people, we will be able to unite their passion and ideas to ensure our up coming campaign is the most informed and effective one yet.”

David, who attends Bede Sixth Form Academy and chaired the event, recently spoke in the House of Commons at the national youth parliament on the issue of bullying.

He said: “Without a doubt the day was a huge success and there were lots of suggestions coming up that have not been shared before.

“And because careers has been highlighted as the main issue of concern we will make sure that we plan a great campaign to help on this issue.

“We plan to go away and produce information that can help and reach out on this matter.”

The young people were also joined by Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, as well as councillors and representatives from charities and authorities to listen to what they had to say.

Suggestions were made on how to tackle bullying in schools, how to improve sex education and to improve the rights of students.

The need for support in sensitive areas, such as self harm and depression, also arose and many of the contributions included a desire for more people to go to for help in those situations.

There was also a lot of concern shared about the level of youth unemployment and what chance young people had of getting work after leaving school.

Mrs Hodgson said: “It has been absolutely fantastic to see how many young people came – it is double the amount that attended last year.

“And it is very apt that careers has been highlighted in the difficult times we are in.

“As politicians we need to take that on board to ensure that we don’t have another lost generation like we did when unemployment was this high before.

“I really want to encourage employers to not necessarily go for the obvious choice and give a young person a chance.

“I know they will work their socks off and will bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the job – we need to give them a chance.”

Currently the UK Youth Parliament priority campaign is making public transport cheaper, better and accessible for all, and this also came up in the debate in the Civic Centre.

Representatives from Nexus and other transport services were there as the young people expressed their concern at the price of using the Metro and buses. The day was organised by Sunderland’s Youth Parliament with the support of the council’s Youth Development Group and the issues discussed came through consultation at events in schools and youth groups.

Coun Pat Smith, portfolio holder for Children and Learning City, said: “We should all be proud of this event taking place in our city, which is unique in the fact that is driven by our young people themselves. The debate plays a very important role in helping us decide upon the future shape of our city and the way we deliver services for young people, because it highlights their views and opinions and their ideas on the ways we can improve.

“It also demonstrates their commitment to getting involved and the level of youth participation in the decision making process of the city council.”