PM's flagship youth scheme falters on home turf

Neil Puffett
Friday, September 16, 2011

Prime Minister David Cameron is facing embarrassment after only half the places on a flagship youth project in Oxfordshire were taken up, leaving the provider set to ditch the scheme.

Pilot programmes for the National Citizen Service (NCS) ran across the country this summer, with the Cabinet Office reporting that around 8,500 of the 11,000 (77 per cent) places were filled.

However, a project run by Oxfordshire Association for Young People (OAYP) in the south of the county saw only 15 people take part in the scheme despite initially being over-subscribed, with 35 children signing up for 30 places.

It was one of two schemes staged in Oxfordshire, which contains Cameron’s constituency of Witney, the other being run by the county council.

Paul Lawrence, county director for the OAYP scheme, run on behalf of charity Catch22, said initial enthusiasm for the scheme was strong, but a handful of children dropped out prior to the start due to reasons including getting a job, joining the army and going on holiday. This, he said, had a domino effect on other children, leading to further drop-outs.

The issues faced in Oxfordshire mirror findings of a CYP Now survey of NCS projects, due to be published tomorrow, which uncovered issues with regard to drop-outs and the way the project is structured.

Lawrence said that although those taking part took a lot from the experience, he is minded not to run the project again next year due to cost issues and the effort required to make the project a success.

"Having the residential at the start, from one perspective, was good, bearing in mind it was one of the biggest ‘carrots’ of the scheme," he said.

"But we had to work very hard to keep them interested for the full five weeks after that. It really was a battle to keep everyone interested in the programme.

"If it wasn’t for the dedicated members of staff, the programme would have fallen flat on its face."

Lawrence added that he believes the project was run at a loss and feels that, although feedback from those taking part was positive, the money could potentially be better spent on other youth provision. "Part of me thinks [the money] should be spent elsewhere on other services for young people."

The NCS is due to be expanded next year, with Cameron recently re-asserting his commitment to the scheme in the wake of last month’s riots.

The Cabinet Office has commissioned an evaluation of the pilots.

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