The NCS Trust has said it will not continue working with The Challenge, a charity which has been at the heart of the National Citizen Service programme since its inception, to deliver projects next year.
The Trust, which is a royal charter body responsible for commissioning and overseeing the delivery of the government's flagship youth volunteering scheme, said it had failed to reach agreement with The Challenge over a requirement to use a shared IT system. It also said it had concerns about The Challenge’s delivery of the programme.
But The Challenge said it was “surprised” by the public statement because negotiations are ongoing.
The Challenge currently delivers NCS programmes in London, the South East and the West Midlands. It also runs HeadStart, which is a "natural extension of the NCS experience", operates various work experience programmes, and provides the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, which has been running an inquiry into intergenerational connection.
In 2017, 45,000 young people took part in NCS programmes run by The Challenge or its sub-contractors.
The Challenge's income for the financial year to 31 October 2017 was £69.8m, and its contract to deliver NCS was its principal source of income.
The Challenge spent £66m on delivering NCS programmes, but does not specify in its accounts how much money it received specifically to deliver NCS. It has nearly 1,300 employees.
It was set up in 2009 and ran a pilot programme with 158 young people in London. The NCS was formally launched by the government in 2010 and The Challenge has been heavily involved in delivering the programme since then.
‘Value for money’
NCS Trust, which is in the process of commissioning charities and other bodies to deliver the next phase of the NCS programme, said that using a shared IT system would ensure value for money, improve customer experience and protect young people’s data.
Michael Lynas, chief executive of NCS Trust, said: “We need to ensure a consistent customer experience, secure value for money for the taxpayer and safeguard the data of the young people who take part. That’s why our contracts stipulate that all partners use a single shared IT platform.
“Unfortunately, since The Challenge is unwilling to use this important system, which is successfully used by all other partners in the NCS network, we are unable to award contracts. As the commissioning body, entrusted with selecting the best organisations to safely deliver NCS while offering value for public money, this decision is the best way for us to continue to achieve these aims.”
The NCS programme has been criticised by MPs in the past for not delivering value for money, and the Trust is in the middle of a recommissioning process to deliver it from 2020. Full details of the new partner network and structure will be announced soon.
The procurement process for “NCS 2.0” began in August 2018, and provider contracts were expected to be in place by the end of July 2019.
The Challenge will continue to deliver programmes this summer and autumn.
Lynas added: “NCS thanks The Challenge and its dedicated staff for the hard work they have put into the NCS programme over many years and I personally hope that many of them will continue to be part of our future network.”
4,000 young people ‘let down’
NCS Trust also said it had separate concerns about The Challenge after learning 4,000 people were not allocated a place on their chosen programme.
In a statement it said these people had been “let down” by the charity.
Since the programme began, NCS has consistently struggled to meet its participation targets.
The Challenge: ‘We continue to seek a resolution’
In a statement, The Challenge said that it was surprised that NCS Trust had issued a public statement because it was still hopeful that issues could be resolved.
A spokesperson said: “On 31 July, the NCS Trust issued a statement regarding 2020 contracts for NCS provision and The Challenge. We were surprised to see this public statement as it relates to an ongoing negotiation between our two organisations as to how we may be able to resolve certain issues in order that we can continue to provide first-class, value-for-money NCS provision.
“The Challenge remains committed to the values of social integration through the provision of NCS to young people across the UK. It is important and necessary work. The Challenge will continue to seek resolution with the NCS Trust, in consultation with DCMS and HMT. We will keep all staff, partners and suppliers fully updated as this process evolves and thank them for their continued support and hard work.”