The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is investigating governance issues at NCS Trust after becoming aware of “an unacceptable exit package proposed for the outgoing NCS chief executive”.
NCS Trust is the royal charter body that was established to oversee the development of the government’s flagship youth volunteering programme, the National Citizen Service. It is responsible for distributing over £100m a year in government funding to partner organisations.
It took over from the community interest company that previously ran the scheme in 2018. Former chief executive Michael Lynas has been involved since the scheme's inception in 2009, taking on his current role in 2013 and moving across to the new body when it was set up.
Lynas resigned last year and Mark Gifford, a former Waitrose & Partners senior director, starts as chief executive today.
Lynas had been expected to be part of a transition committee for the new chief executive and act as a consultant for six months.
Yesterday the Sunday Mirror claimed that Lynas had been due to receive £15,000 to “help him train for a new job”.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “Earlier this month we were made aware of an unacceptable exit package proposed for the outgoing NCS chief executive.
“We have taken swift action to stop this, and are investigating wider issues around governance.
“A new CEO joins the NCS from today and we are clear that we expect the organisation going forward to be completely focused on helping level up the country with strong opportunities for young people from all backgrounds."
Government officials have written to Brett Wigdortz, chair of NCS Trust, to make it clear that the circumstances of Lynas’s departure should comply with HM Treasury guidance on managing public money.
Senior officials also said that Lynas’s notice period should have been no longer than three months and that DCMS would not approve learning and development spending on an outgoing chief executive.
NCS Trust: We acted in good faith
A spokesperson for NCS Trust said there were inaccuracies in the Mirror's story and that the terms of Lynas' departure were agreed in good faith.
They said: “NCS Trust was disappointed to read the article in yesterday's Sunday Mirror as it contained inaccuracies and misleading information which the Trust is picking up with the journalist directly.
“Importantly the online article suggests that tax payers' money is missing for unfilled places in 2018. No money is missing for unfilled places, it is fully accounted for as part of the sunk costs we pay to our partners who deliver the NCS programme. No additional money is outstanding for other years.
“The terms of Mr Lynas’ departure were agreed in good faith by the NCS Trust board in December 2019 and the Trust has worked closely with DCMS to ensure we comply with government procedures. Michael Lynas stepped down as CEO of the Trust on Friday and will not receive an exit package nor will he be a consultant for the organisation.
“DCMS has reiterated its support for the Trust and is looking forward to working closely with the new CEO. Mark Gifford has joined the Trust today as CEO after a hugely successful career at the John Lewis Partnership. He is completely focused on helping levelling the country by providing strong opportunities for young people of all backgrounds.
“Beyond the above corrections, the Trust will not comment on confidential issues relating to personal or employment matters.”
Praise from former PM
Last year's announcement from NCS Trust about Lynas’s resignation included praise from former prime minister David Cameron, chair of the patrons committee, who said: “NCS would not exist today without the immense energy and dedication of Michael Lynas.
“Since 2009, he has worked tirelessly to bring it to life both inside and outside of government. NCS is one of the things that I am most proud of during my time as prime minister because it makes such a tangible difference to young people’s lives.
“Michael’s public service has helped to establish a new national institution - an achievement of which he should be justifiably proud.”
Editor's note: 2 March 13.15
This story has been updated with the latest response from NCS Trust