Watchdog questions value of youth projects

Written By: David Hencke
Published: February 11, 2017 Last modified: February 11, 2017

Theresa May has tweaked the progress of  National Citizen Service – one of David Cameron’s “big society” projects – by limiting money and dropping a commitment to a statutory requirement for schools and colleges to publicise it.

The programme was started by the Cabinet Office but it has now been transferred  by Mrs May to the Depart­ment of Culture, Media and Sport.

The former PM has taken a job of chairing the patron’s committee of National Citizen Service after he resigned from office. The trust runs four week programmes , summer camps and community work for 15 to 17 year olds.

A bill to set up the service on a statutory footing and give it a Royal Charter  is going through Parliament and is currently in the House of Lords.

But a critical report by the National Audit Office has questioned whether it is value for money and whether it has worked out how to cost the programmes it provides.

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.

The scheme has been criticized for providing opportunities for mainly middle class families wanting a good CV for their children to get a university place.

However it is also supported and promoted by Labour MPs in working class areas who see it as a great opportunity for working class kids.

One MP strongly behind it is Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, who 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.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent