Youth councillor 'shocked' by decision to axe council

1:09 pm on 11 April 2024
Whanganui District Council

Photo: Supplied / Google Maps

A youth councillor said she is "shocked" by the Whanganui District Council's decision to axe its youth council as part of its long-term plan.

But the mayor, Andrew Tripe, said he has come up with an even better solution.

Last week, the Whanganui District Council conduced meetings to outline the services and projects slated for reduction or removal in order to maintain more affordable rates, which included the disestablishment of the Whanganui District Council Youth Council.

Lola Fisher said the youth council was not involved in any consultation before the announcement.

"We were told that this was an already made decision, so there was going to be no community consultation on it, it was one of the decisions that council had already made as part of $1.1 million in savings," she said.

"This came to us without any conversation or consultation to the youth council.

"We had no prior warning, and we were, quite honestly, shocked."

Charlotte Melser, the council appointee on the Youth Council, had broken the news to them in February.

She said, from the council's perspective, it was black and white.

"It's a monetary issue," Melser said.

"We've spent 18 months, as every other council has, combing through budget lines to find possible cuts and savings to achieve an affordable rates increase for our long-term plan."

"Basically where it comes down to is cost savings."

The mayor said he has introduced a portfolio structure for elected members instead.

Tripe said it will be a range of different portfolios that respond and listen to the community, one of which will be youth, led by Melser.

"I feel that councils across New Zealand, and indeed ourselves, need to be closer to the community than we are," Tripe said.

"The closer we are to the community, the better decisions we can make."

"We don't want to lose their voice, and we want to be able to hear from them, and we want to be able to listen to them, and respond to their needs, both now and in the future."

He said youth councils have to follow strict protocols in regards to standing orders, and require significant council support.

"I think by having a more fluid, and interactive, and informal structure through portfolios, we can offer probably an even better solution," Tripe said.

Fisher said she was worried that the disestablishment of youth councils around New Zealand was becoming a trend after the closure of the Ashburton Youth Council last year, and the consideration of axing the Gore Youth Council.

The Ashburton District Council voted to disband the youth council in December, also without any consultation with the members.

It decided to shift its focus to digital engagement, and resurrect the annual Ashburton Youth Forum instead.

Fisher said the Whanganui District Council Youth Council has been a cornerstone of youth engagement in local decision-making processes since its establishment in 2006, and the decision to disestablish the youth council was estimated to only save $51,000 per annum for the council.

"The disestablishment of the youth council sends a clear message to rangatahi that our voices are expendable when it comes to budgetary considerations. It's a betrayal of trust and a denial of our right to representation," she said.

"The youth council not only provides opportunities for rangatahi to actively participate in council and leadership contexts but also allocates funding for crucial youth initiatives, promotes awareness, and fosters knowledge among young people."

"Its disestablishment sends a concerning message about the council's priorities and its dedication to the well-being and inclusion of young voices in decision-making processes."

Broughton said councils were needing to make some tough calls right now as they decide on their long-term plans.

"There are a range of actions that councils can take to ensure they have inclusive and representative democracies, including through representation reviews, targeted engagements, and youth councils."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs