Funds for national youth scheme would be better spent locally, say MPs

22 Jun 11
A government youth programme that aims to provide six weeks of volunteering for 16-year-olds is too expensive and should be scrapped, MPs have said.

By Richard Johnstone | 23 June 2011

A government youth programme that aims to provide six weeks of volunteering for 16-year-olds is too expensive and should be scrapped, MPs have said.

Volenteer kids ALAMY

The Commons education select committee has today said it ‘cannot support’ the flagship National Citizen Service programme in current form and funding should be used to support other youth services at risk of cuts.

Under the government’s proposals, NCS activity programmes will last seven to eight weeks over the summer months, including at least ten days and nights on a residential basis.

Up to 11,000 teenagers in England will take part in pilot projects this summer, undertaking a two-week residential course before working in their communities, at a cost of up to £13m.

While the committee ‘applauds the government’s aspiration to make a universal offer to all young people’, it found that the programme could eventually cost £355m a year, even if only 50% of the 600,000 eligible 16-year-olds take part.

This is more than English councils’ total spending on youth services in 2009/10 and, as these services are facing ‘disproportionate’ cuts ranging from 20% to 100% this year, the committee concludes the cost couldn’t be justified.

Instead, it recommends that the core idea be retained, but that the programme becomes a government-accredited quality mark for existing services. All funds currently earmarked for it should be diverted into year-round youth services.

The Services for young people report also states the government must be prepared to direct local authorities to meet their statutory obligations to provide young people with access to sufficient educational and recreational activities, despite the cuts.

Committee chair Graham Stuart said: ‘The government's idea of using the National Citizen Service to inspire young people to engage with their communities, mix socially and build their skills is a good one. However, the pilots are proving to be expensive and full roll-out would be hard to justify when cuts, which the government itself calls disproportionate, are impacting existing youth services provided by local authorities. The NCS should be adapted so that it accredits existing programmes while introducing a new focus and resources into the sector.’

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations welcomed the call. Head of policy Ralph Michell told Public Finance: ‘We were fairly critical of the National Citizenship Service when it was first introduced. This was not because we thought it was a bad idea for the government to be investing money in this area, but because you had a situation where voluntary organisations – that are already working in this area, knowing what works and what doesn’t and with good roots in local communities – were being decimated.

‘Thecommittee is right that the investment could be better spent on trying to improve and scale up the existing schemes that we know work, and that at the moment are in danger of going bust.’


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