Concern over Serco involvement in NCS bid

By Neil Puffett

| 13 August 2012

Concerns have been raised over the involvement of private sector firm Serco in a consortium bidding for contracts to run the National Citizen Service.

Charity the Challenge Network is currently the largest NCS provider. Image: The Challenge Network

The company, which holds contracts for work in sectors including local government, defence, transport, science and the private sector, is part of a bid to provide the programme in partnership with the National Youth Agency, UK Youth, Catch 22 and volunteering charity V.

There are concerns that should the bid be successful, it could place smaller youth service providers under financial pressure.

Linda Jack, member of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee for education, described it as a “worrying development” and said she fears there could be “real problems” if Serco stand to make a profit out of the work.

This, she says, could lead to “cherry-picking” if financial gain can be made from pursuing certain aspects of work with young people over others.

"There are things for which private sector provision makes perfect sense but not for something that the voluntary sector and statutory sector already deliver," she said. "I find it absolutely extraordinary that private providers could be making money out of volunteers."

Jack has called for full details of exactly how the partnership will work to be made public should the contract bid be successful.

“The fact that the details may not actually be released because of ‘commercial confidence’ is quite disturbing,” she added.

David Wright, chief executive of the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services (CHYPS), said general concerns around private providers delivering the programme include the possibility that smaller local providers could be forced out of the market.

“One hopes that where you develop partnerships and projects, the local voluntary sector is not overlooked,” he said. “It is important that local knowledge is retained.”

UK Youth has described the partnership as “charities leading businesses and making sure they do it right”.

“We know what young people need because we work with them,” a spokesman said. “Serco has the infrastructure to help us deliver."

Jayne Colquhoun, chief executive of V, said: “Having worked with local partners across the country to deliver NCS since 2011 we are keen to continue our involvement over the years to come to provide a high quality, exciting programme for 16- and 17-year-olds.

"Given the government’s ambition to scale up the programme from 2013 onwards, we have joined up with Catch 22, NYA, Serco and UK Youth to form the NCS Network. We hope this will enable us to continue our work with existing local partners and bring on board new delivery organisations.”

The National Youth Agency declined to comment due to the tender process being ongoing. NCS contracts for 2013 are due to be awarded within a matter of weeks.

A spokesman for Serco said he was unable to comment due to the tender process.

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