National Citizen Service recruitment targets cut by more than 100,000

By Joe Lepper

| 07 February 2017

Participation targets for the number of young people taking part in the National Citizen Service by 2020/21 have been cut by more than 100,000.

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts select committee, described the accounts of the NCS Trust as "remarkably untransparent". Picture: UK Parliament

During a public accounts select committee meeting into the finances of the government's flagship youth participation scheme, it emerged that the scheme's original target of getting 360,000 young people to participate in 2020/21 has now been scaled back to 247,000.

The news comes just weeks after a report by the National Audit Office detailed how in 2016 five out of nine of the major regional providers significantly missed participation targets and since 2010 none of the annual recruitment goals had been met.

Michael Lynas, chief executive of the National Citizen Service Trust, the community interest company that runs the scheme, told MPs at the hearing that the 360,000 figure had been "an aim".

"As I understand it was a spending envelope to allow the manifesto promise of a place for everyone who wants one to be filled," he said.

He added: "It is fast growing and awareness is growing fast. I think that whether [360,000] is achieved in four years or 10 years, we are on a definite trajectory to get there."

Mark Fisher, director of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's Office for Civil Society and Innovation, which oversees the scheme, added: "The 247,000 is based on projections from the NCS Trust. They think [the revised target] is stretching, but achievable over the course of the parliament".

He added that greater awareness within schools should help boost numbers and that the government is about to issue guidance to schools, agreed by the Department for Education, on the role schools can play in getting the numbers up.

But select committee member and Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she is concerned that the NCS Trust will still fall short of delivering the revised target as it will mean more than doubling the current growth rate of 17,000 participants every year.

She said: "You have to meet that quite substantial increase in numbers and I'm still not feeling very confident that you have got that support from the DfE to help you grow that from the school base."

Further concerns were raised by MPs around the financial transparency of the NCS Trust, which is set to be subject to a royal charter through the National Citizen Service Bill currently going through parliament.

Citing a lack of information in the trust's annual report, particularly around staff, committee chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier said: "You are a community interest company. You are about to have a major parliament act. Yet it is very difficult to get information from your annual report and accounts."

Lynas said that after the NCS Bill is passed the organisation will be audited by the NAO in future and its accounts will be published by parliament.

He added: "These are our standard accounts for the sort of organisation we are and we have lots of information on our websites."

But Hillier questioned why the NCS Trust and Lynas in particular was not more open, describing their annual report and accounts as "remarkably untransparent".

Also present at the hearing were representatives of the National Audit Office, including comptroller and auditor general Sir Amyas Morse, who was concerned that Lynas was unable to tell the committee how much money providers were spending locally on promotion and marketing of the scheme, only what the trust was spending centrally.

Lynas said: "We are doing a full audit at the moment of all the costs our providers are spending. In terms of what we are spending centrally we are spending around £100 per person on the full suite of getting someone who has never heard [about NCS] actually signed up, that's sales and marketing."

In a statement issued to CYP Now after the meeting, Michael Lynas said: "There is no change to the ambition to offer every young person a guaranteed place on NCS. The changes are about setting a prudent budget envelope to 2020: as stated in the NAO report, 360,000 was never a target.

"
Our targets are set and agreed each year with government. NCS has worked closely with government in recent months to agree an annual target for 2017 which is ambitious but realistic. For 2017 our annual target is 101,000. We are confident we can work with our partners to achieve this target and deliver value for money for tax payers.


He added that NCS Trust is "committed to transparency and fulfills obligations to government and as a community interest company".
 
"In addition to our audited accounts which are published on our website, NCS publishes detailed independent evaluation of the programme's impact, and has recently been rigorously audited by the National Audit Office, who published their value for money report in January.

"We work closely with government to answer frequent parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests about NCS.

"The NCS Bill will bring further transparency measures, including the publication of annual NAO audited accounts laid before parliament. These will be implemented after the bill receives Royal Assent, which we expect to happen in the coming weeks."

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