One of David Cameron’s legacies from his ” Big Society ” initiative is the creation of a National Citizen Service for 15 to 17 year olds where they could go to summer camps.take part in adventurous sports like rock climbing and kayaking and undertake community work and local projects for four weeks.
He bequeathed Theresa May with a bill setting up a national trust with a Royal Charter so it could be implemented nationwide. So enamoured was David Cameron with the idea he has agreed to be chair of the patrons of the new trust.
But since Theresa May took office it has suffered two body blows. She has limited the money and dropped a commitment to a statutory requirement for schools and colleges to publicise it. None of this has had much publicity because of Trump and Brexit.
As a result it will have less money and less publicity.
Her action coincided with a damning National Audit Office report which questioned its ability to deliver and control the money it has already received.
The NAO warned : “The Trust has spent little time understanding costs and where savings could be made. The Trust has four strategic objectives: growth; quality; cost and sustainability. Its business plan includes a number of cost control initiatives at the early stages of implementation. “
“Based on a full unit cost, NCS risks being financially unsustainable in the future. Our analysis shows that in 2016, the estimated full unit cost exceeded the expected unit cost by 19%
“On this basis, it will cost government £560 million to provide 300,000 places in 2019-20, 32% more than the £424 million funding currently allocated. The unit cost will need to fall 29% from £1,863 in 2016 to £1,314 in 2019 to provide these places within the available spending envelope. “
Worse the report found that the trust had little ability to control costs.
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO added: “NCS is now at a critical stage…. The OCS (Office for Civil Society) and the Trust have shown that NCS can attract large numbers of participants, and participation has a positive effect on young people. These are no small achievements, but it remains unclear whether these effects are enduring and whether NCS can grow to become ‘a rite of passage’ available to all 16- to 17-year-olds.The OCS and the Trust now need to think radically about the aspects of the current programme that work and how best to achieve NCS’s aims at a more affordable cost to the taxpayer.”
The question is what is the NCS for? Will it just be another project high jacked by pushy parents who want their sons and daughters to have an attractive CV when they apply for a university place? Or will it serve as a genuine catalyst to give ” hard to reach ” young people an idea of community involvement.
One working class area where it is working is Barnsley.
The local MP ,Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, is strongly behind it and has promoted the scheme in his constituency.
“It obviously needs to be value for money but it is vitally important it gets to “ hard to reach “ kids as it can change lives.
“People sometimes think I am keen to promote it because of my army background and want to introduce it as a return to conscription. This is not the case – it is more than one needs the scheme to be put on a national basis.”
He says the success in Barnsley is helped by projects run by the town’s football club and also a recent exchange with the London borough of Newham which helped kids broaden their horizons.
At the moment the jury is out. Will it expand to benefit the working classes or just be another middle class ” rite of passage”. Who will win out – Barnsley or Eton?
I have also written about this for Tribune magazine.