Our columnist this week is Richard Dunbar, a 22-year-old member of Bradford-Keighley Youth Parliament for Bradford South.

In a society where we are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics, coupled with the image of young people being less than favourable, it is worth asking what chance the younger generation really has of influencing change and therefore making a positive contribution towards the country and, indeed, the city in which we live?

The Bradford-Keighley Youth Parliament (BKYP), now four years old, is challenging these self-perpetuating ideologies by making strides in ensuring that young people in the district can influence decision-making processes and therefore see change occur. So what makes BKYP so different that it actually believes it can affect change? The answer is simple: we are the only democratically-elected group of young people in the district and therefore a legitimate platform from which our peers can sound off their opinions.

We have been working hard to ensure that the voice of young people is heard on the highest decision-making bodies where the issues discussed affect them. On this front, we have made significant steps. BKYP now has representation on the Young People and Education Improvement Committee whose aim is to scrutinise and comment on the services provided for young people in the district. We also sit on the Children and Young People's Strategic Partnership, an influential body of people whose role is to provide the strategic direction of joint working, through the Children and Young People's Plan, which includes agreeing project plans to monitoring overall performance.

Far from being a tokenistic gesture, our contribution has often proved invaluable and we have often been described as showstoppers' because we tell it as it is! Being involved with such groups represents real proof that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (and in particular Article 12) is being implemented so that children and young people's voices are not only been heard but also valued when it comes to decisions affecting them. This fits in well with the Youth Matters agenda which aims to help all young people achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes. The delivery of the Youth Matters agenda is imperative if we are to get more young people involved in positive activities as well as, among other things, making sure systems of support are coherent and modern.

At BKYP we very much see ourselves as self-reflective practitioners as we are always looking for ways in which we can improve our practice. We recently held a review of our current structure and devised a new model which we believe will give us more opportunities to meet with young people and bring about more tangible change. It proposes that from 2007 new members will be working more locally and there will be clearer lines of communication to strategic partners as well as membership to each of the five Every Child Matters outcome groups. The aim: more young people will see BKYP as a representative voice and believe that they themselves can play a part in improving the communities in which they live, work and play.

If you are 11-21 and want to see some change then you can have your say by voting in the BKYP elections between January 22-26, 2007. It is quite simple; the more votes we poll, the more influential we will be!

The regeneration of the city is much more about building work, it is about changing perceptions and realising that the increasing population of young people have a real part to play in making a difference. By recognising the need to work together is just the beginning, progress will be judged on this being sustained and success will come when we see real change.