Three Team Future youth activists; myself, Sam and Cara had the pleasure of attending the first ever Manchester Mayoral question time, a truly fantastic night to remember. Team Future is a youth campaigning collective supported by RECLAIM building the power and voice of working class young people.
The night was meant to mirror PM question time and it definitely did. Mayor Burnham was grilled over a range of policies and views, the four main policy areas discussed were spice, mental health, youth and education and homelessness.
The overall atmosphere of the night was quite relaxed, although heated at points. On behalf of Team Future, I'd like to say what a privilege it was to be there and a thank you to Mayor Burnham for his truthful and well thought out responses.
The newly elected mayor faced backlash over the Spice crisis and his response to it so far.
For those who do not know, Spice is a form of synthetic cannabis, that has recently had a devastating impact in Manchester, with users being left in a trance like state stumbling across the city centre. Mayor Burnham and Chief Constable Hopkins offered up a dealer centric approach, in which the dealer is criminalised and would face sentences upwards of three years.
Although commendable for their tough stance, little was said about the users and help that will be offered to them, which was extremely disappointing.
With homelessness having risen by 360% since 2010, it was no surprise that the issue was the most heated of the night. This is a growing crisis and a real solution is desperately needed. When pushed on the matter Mayor Burnham made the bold statement that he'd eliminate rough sleeping by 2020, a promise we must hold him accountable to.
However, for some this was not enough and the Mayor faced constant criticism for his lack of direct action. One audience member launched a passionate rant on the vast amounts of council buildings, not in use, which could be potentially used for temporary accommodation. It was a good point and one that should be strongly considered.
In Burnham's defence he did highlight his 'Good Landlord Scheme' which is an attempt by the council to regulate the housing market to ensure bad landlords who abuse their tenants are rooted out. Burnham openly criticised the current government and the way they have scrapped housing benefits for those between the ages of 18-21.
Surprisingly, Burnham addressed mental health - an area many politicians stay clear of. Burnham expressed a hint of dismay at the over prescribing of drugs by doctors to solve mental health problems and instead offered a more well-being, holistic approach. Although offering valid points, Burnham failed to acknowledge the circumstances in which our country's doctors work, which was disappointing; in addition to this, he appeared to oversimplify what is a very complex, multi-faceted issue.
Mayor Burnham's strongest performance came in the final section of the Q&A when he was questioned on his policies for education and young people. Burnham passionately spoke about the Opportunity Pass. This is a pass that will allow young people access to sporting, cultural and musical events through volunteering and charity work.
This is linked to his half price transport pass, which will be provided to those aged 16-18. Following a question by Team Future activist Cara on social mobility, Burnham reiterated his stances on creating a UCAS style website for careers in which all children not just the privileged few would be able to access certain careers.
The young, newly elected mayor went on to speak about his desire to widen opportunities and ultimately take down the old boys' network, which has been prevalent in our society for too long. He not only offered a new deal to the city's homeless but also to young people, a new deal based on equality and fairness.
With cuts left, right and centre Manchester is in need of a different type of politics. We are currently living in a time where homeless is on the rapid rise, the use of spice is evident in our streets and gulf between the working class and the elite is running deeper and deeper. At the moment Mayor Burnham is at the very least saying the right statements, yet only time will tell to see whether the Mayor is a Mayor of statements or a Mayor of action.
I for one, hope he will be the later - but it will be down to activists like us to hold him to account.