Whanganui District Council is proposing to cut its youth council by June as part of its long-term plan. It’s not the only youth council in danger. 

Last year, Ashburton District Council cut their youth council and Gore District Council considered cutting theirs. 

These district councils say their youth councils are not fulfilling their intended purpose and that the money allocated to running youth councils could be better spent on engaging with external youth groups. 

But Whanganui youth councillor Lola Fisher says youth councils are the “first port of call” when councils need to consult with rangatahi. 

The purpose of youth councils  

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

To fulfil that requirement and give young people a seat at the table, many councils have a youth council. 

For example, the Whanganui District Youth Council consists of up to 14 youth councillors aged between 12 and 24 who regularly meet to discuss issues that matter to young people and find solutions. 

Youth councillors are appointed on two-year terms by the council through an application process instead of being elected. 

Whanganui youth councillors Holly Davies (left), Lola Fisher (centre) and Michaelah Thomas at Festival for the Future in 2023. Photo: supplied 

15-year-old Lola has been a youth councillor for two and a half years. 

In that time, Lola says the youth council has spent its time and budget organising events, financially supporting local organisations, engaging with schools, conducting its own projects and consulting on the council’s projects. 

One of their current projects is helping youth support service Whanganui Youth Services Trust rebrand to “become more inviting to young people”.

Lola receives a fortnightly koha of $13.46 for being a youth councillor. 

Youth councils are being cut to save money 

Whanganui District Council is proposing to cut its youth council because running it costs $51,000 per year and the number of youth councillors has declined over time, Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe says.

The youth council was not consulted on this decision. 

In February, during one of its regular meetings with the district council, Whanganui Youth Council was told it would be disestablished by June 30, Lola says. 

“We all cried when we heard the news,” she says. 

Lola Fisher (left) at community event Puanga Rising, which Whanganui Youth Council helped organise and volunteered at in 2022. Photo: supplied

To continue engaging with young people, Whanganui District Council is proposing giving an individual councillor a youth portfolio and setting aside $10,000 for youth projects which Tripe says will save ratepayers money. 

Ashburton District Council cut their youth council last year because recruitment had been “challenging” over the past five years and “required significant resource”, democracy and engagement group manager Toni Durham says. 

Durham says the council is “instead committed to engaging more directly with existing community youth groups”.

Gore District Youth Council cost its district council $10,000 in 2023 and could be cut next. 

Gore District Council reviewed its youth council in 2023 and found it had strayed from its purpose, interim chief executive Stephen Parry says. 

Instead of cutting their youth council, Gore District Council voted in January to give it more resources so it could fulfil its purpose better, Parry says. 

Now that the “challenging budget picture for 2024/25” is emerging, Parry says this decision will be reviewed in late April. 

“In the meantime, the Gore District Youth Council for 2024 has not been put in place,” he says. 

Bringing a youth council back from the dead 

After disestablishing its youth council in 2017, Rotorua Lakes Council voted to reestablish it in 2023. 

The council found engaging with individual youth groups was not enough and said it needed a “formal mechanism in place to systematically incorporate youth perspectives into Council decision-making processes” in a meeting in November 2023. 

It appointed a full Rotorua Youth Council in January 2024. 

The future of Whanganui District Youth Council  

Consultation on Whanganui District Council’s long-term plan runs until May 2 and Mayor Andrew Tripe says he is open to hearing submissions on the youth council. 

“It’s important that communities get involved in the consultation on these plans to help councils prioritise what is important to their communities,” Local Government NZ president Sam Broughton says. 

Whanganui youth councillors Kereama Allen (left), Michaelah Thomas (centre) and Lola Fisher (right) at Festival for the Future in 2023. Photo: supplied 

Without a youth council, Lola Fisher says her council “won’t be able to come to get a holistic view” of what the Whanganui community needs. 

She says rangatahi “inherit all the decisions made by local and national government” and that Whanganui Youth Council will be making submissions to let their council understand “the impacts of their decisions”.

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