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National Citizen Service considers new types of providers

National Citizen Service considers new types of providers
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National Citizen Service considers new types of providers1

Finance | Niki May Young | 15 Feb 2012

The Cabinet Office has asked organisations that are considering participating in the government's flagship National Citizen Service volunteering scheme to complete an online survey to gauge interest. 

The survey for interested parties asks for advice on "what type of organisations do you think should be part of NCS delivery?" listing schools, businesses, local authorities, voluntary organisations and sports clubs among the potential providers.

It also asks organisations to indicate in what way they could help deliver the programme, listing the options to "provide specific components of the programme at low cost", to "work directly with young people to join the programme" or to provide "logistical support such as travel and/or data/information management," suggesting that the government is looking not just for providers, but for suppliers as well. 

The Cabinet Office estimates that the NCS scheme could be worth £110m by 2014 to participating organisations.

The pilot in 2011 saw 8,000 volunteers participate in six-week initiatives led by 19 service providers. This year, the number is expected to reach 30,000 and the government has committed to providing volunteering opportunities for 90,000 16-year-olds by 2014. The government plans for the initiative to become a universal 'rite-of-passage' for 16-year-olds subsequent to the pilot's completion.

Yougn participants undertake three full-time weeks on the programme, then spend a week back home volunteering in their own locality, and are then required to complete a further 30 hours of part-time social action in their own time.

Catch22 successfully bid to participate in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and provided 1,000 placements for volunteers during last year's scheme. Rosie Chadwick, the charity's director of public affairs, policy and innovation, said it would bid again to participate in 2014/15. It also plans to increase the number of participants this year to 2,700 as it scales up its offering now that the necessary infrastructure is in place within the organisation.

Bringing in big business

The Cabinet Office announcement also emphasises the role of big business in facilitating the scheme, which has previously only involved charities and social enterprises.

"The government's ambition is to make NCS available to all 16-year-olds so that it becomes a rite of passage and is committed to providing 90,000 places by 2014. In order to do this it needs organisations, from big business to voluntary organisations, to run the schemes around the country," the announcement says.

Asked whether she believed the scheme should be rolled out to big business, Catch22's Chadwick said: "From a practical point of view we need to greatly increase the capacity to deliver the National Citizen Service.

"For me the acid test is can they deliver something that's true to the ethos of the scheme. If they think they can do that, then good luck to them."

Criticism of the initiative

The NCS initiative has received mixed reactions from the civil society sector. It was revealed that a quarter of the available positions last year were not filled. In response to the announced rollout of the scheme last year, then-Navca chief executive, Kevin Curley said: "Navca supports the NCS. But local volunteer centres and youth volunteering projects are suffering badly from both local authority cuts and cuts to 'v' programmes. Most local voluntary sector leaders think that more young people will be drawn into long-term social action in their communities through permanent local projects than through participation in a short-burst national scheme. And that's Navca's view too."

Funding plans

Funding of the initiative has also been criticised. The pilot year saw government funding of £13m, rising to £37m for 2012. In this latest announcement the government advises that by 2014 the scheme could be worth £110m to participants, an increase in funding of £73m for a year.

In October last year, however, the Education Select Committee raised concerns that government funding of NCS may not be ringfenced after the pilot ends in 2014, and that charging young people to participate, as half of the pilot providers did last year, may prevent young people from low income familities taking part.

Chadwick advised that three-quarters of Catch22's funding for the scheme currently comes from the government while the remaining quarter "provides a challenge" for the organisation to fund itself. Support, however, is "not necessarily in cash", she added, stating that a great deal of assistance is provided by volunteers in the community. 

* This story was amended on 16 February following clarification from the Cabinet Office

Anthony Lawton
20 Feb 2012

A close look at the survey for interested parties is most revealing about the values and underpinning philosophy now of NCS.

Thus Q 5 asks about how organisations see themselves getting involved , and the options are:

-developing and managing supply chains within a geographical area
-providing specific components of the programme at low cost (sic)
-working directly with young people to join the programme
-logistical support ....

Note that it is only the actual work with young people which is specifically indicated as going to be of low cost...! And the work IS TO BE of low cost. No mention even of some trade off between quality and cost.

And then Q 14 asks respondents what they see as the key benefits for their organisations. None of the options speak to service to the community, or people's needs met....but rather the choices are :
-Increased revenues
-increased market share
-direct access to a new target market
-corporate social responsibility


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