Councillors agree that Portsmouth Youth Parliament will stay neutral

George Elliott, who won a seat in Portsmouth Youth Parliament earlier this year
George Elliott, who won a seat in Portsmouth Youth Parliament earlier this year
Fareham Community Hospital in Salisbury Green

Picture: Paul Jacobs

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A PLEDGE has been made to keep a forum for young people to campaign about social issues politically-neutral.

Portsmouth Youth Parliament will continue to be run in-house by the city council. The decision was made at the latest meeting of all members in the council chamber.

The request not to outsource the service to another organisation was put forward by Labour and the Tories.

Both groups were concerned as the council previously considered the parliament should be run by social enterprise Question Me UK – backed by Lib-Dem supporters.

The organisation wasn’t chosen in the end as Cllr Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, spotted its connections with the Lib Dems when she took up office.

But there was uproar when the motion was discussed as it criticised the way young people have worked with politicians and said ‘close political relationships’ with children looked after by the council through associations such as the youth parliament ‘are not advised’ or ‘encouraged’.

Anna Harris, former chairwoman of the youth parliament, said: ‘I found engaging with local politicians to be an enjoyable experience, but that doesn’t seem like it should be encouraged with this notice of motion.

‘It’s pushing young people away from engaging in politics.’

Councillor Matthew Winnington, of the Lib Dems, said: ‘It’s an attack on the youth parliament. It’s absolutely disgraceful.’

West Sussex Tory Councillor Callum Buxton wrote to the Lib Dems saying: ‘To say that a young person should be restricted with their political involvement due to the possibility of ‘political coercion’ is almost insulting, as to imply that young people are inept from making their own decisions in a deliberate and well-thought manner.’

It was claimed that when the contract for the youth parliament was put out for tender, the Lib Dems had a say in Question Me UK being the preferred choice.

But when it was requested that the council’s director of children’s services, Julian Wooster, should clarify who was responsible, officers said it wouldn’t be appropriate.

In the end, an amended motion was agreed upon which focused purely on the need for a balanced youth parliament.

Cllr John Ferrett, Labour group leader, said: ‘We must ensure the youth parliament is not compromised and should not be taken over by one of the political parties.’