Harleston council rejects accusation that it denied vacant seat to student due to his age
A Harleston student is pushing for better representation of young people among local councils in Norfolk after his bid to fill a council vacancy in Harleston was rejected.
Thomas Howard, 21, of Briar Close, currently on break from his studies at the University of East Anglia, had his application to take up a vacant seat on Redenhall with Harleston Town Council turned down at a meeting last Wednesday.
A member of UEA’s student union council, Mr Howard said he had experience with committee work and legislation, but felt he was dismissed because of his age.
But the town council strongly rejected the claim, explaining there were three candidates up for two vacancies, and it said each was treated in “an unbiased, acceptance-at-face-value way”.
In a letter to the Diss Express, Mr Howard claimed Harleston and other towns in Norfolk were “failing to offer opportunities and resources to the young”, and contended they needed to do more to engage with them.
“By no means am I perfect, but younger voices need to be heard and will be heard,” said.
“Rejecting me is fine, but claiming my studies would interfere is insulting when many councillors work full-time.
“We are the future, and we care about the progression of society. There should be a fair representation of all societal demographics, not just a select group.
“Sitting in an almost empty room with no other youngsters in sight made me realise that change is needed, and needed now.”
Mr Howard also criticised the co-option process, which allows council members to fill vacancies that arise between elections, as “outdated”.
He highlighted a particular area which he felt the council needed to improve was its social media presence and its outreach to local schools, to find out the issues younger people were concerned about.
“We have never felt we have been engaged by the council. It feels like they aren’t in touch with young people whatsoever,” he said.
“They didn’t see it as relevant there should be a young person on the council. But I feel like you have to be a part of that certain demographic to have that insight.”
In response, Barry Woods, chairman of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council, said he was concerned about “the gratuitous attack on the council”, stating that the age of the candidates “had no bearing on the decision”.
He said that, due to the recent loss of two experienced councillors, they needed to co-opt experienced individuals who could immediately contribute to council work, and added the town council always abides by the rules related to acquiring new councillors.
“My first reaction is one of disappointment for the council and myself after the efforts I personally put in to explain everything to Mr Howard on that day,” he said.
“I am extremely disappointed that, in his letter, Mr Howard made no mention of the fact that I suspended the whole council meeting for ten minutes, keeping everybody else waiting, so I could speak to him and give him feedback on why he had not been successful on this occasion.
“Mr Howard himself suggested he could be a volunteer bridge between the council and the young people.
“As I thought this an excellent idea, I asked him to write to me volunteering for such a post and I would bring it before the council, where it was likely to be received positively.
“At that time, I had no reason to believe Mr Howard was in any way unhappy with the process, nor did he show signs of displeasure or concern.”