Too often you hear people talk down the aspiration and ambition of young people in Barnsley. Not often enough do we celebrate those people who have come from Barnsley and gone on to greatness. We're not short of role models; we should make the most of them as part of way in which we encourage the next generation to succeed.
The best part of being an MP is the opportunity to meet with young people and talk with them about their aspirations for the future. What I know for certain is that we have some outstanding young talents in our town. Young people who, if given the right opportunities, will go on to do great things and achieve excellence.
When I've been visiting a school or the college, I always come away inspired by the ambition, the enthusiasm, the zest for life, the desire to make the most of all opportunities. I also know from my time in the Army that young people can and do the most amazing things. I’ve seen it firsthand. 18 year olds demonstrating outstanding courage, professionalism, dedication and commitment.
But I still hear it said that this generation is not as good as the last, or the one before that. I disagree. Young people today are everything and more that their predecessors were. Of course there will be some who fall short, take the wrong turn – there always has been, but in the main, in a rapidly changing world, this next generation of talent is as good, if not better, than ever before.
However, we shouldn't ignore that it's a very tough time to be growing up. There are real concerns about making sure that young people get the right education, training, apprenticeship and academic opportunities.
Ultimately, it's for politicians to ensure that our education system is fit for purpose and to ensure support for the brilliantly dedicated crop of teachers who make such a huge contribution to the development of our young people. And it's for politicians to ensure an economic framework that works for working people and creates employment opportunities, so that young people can see that a job is a realistic prospect. And of course we need a welfare system which provides incentives to work, but makes sure young people are given every opportunity to get on. I understand why people are cynical about the ability of politicians to do that.
But there is one very important thing that we all can do to help and it costs us nothing. Nothing. We can make sure that we never, ever, talk down the life opportunities and ambitions of the next generation.
We can make sure that we take every single opportunity to encourage, inspire, persuade, cajole (where necessary) the young people of our town to get on and realise their ambitions – their hopes and their dreams.
It would cost nothing but it would be priceless. Coming from and being of Barnsley is not a badge of shame, it is a badge of honour – let’s make sure our young people – the next generation of talent, wear it with pride!