Vicky Foxcroft, Labour shadow minister for civil society, has criticised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport after it declined to reveal details of any underspend by the NCS Trust.
NCS Trust is the royal charter body that was set up to run the government’s flagship youth programme, the National Citizen Service.
The body is currently involved in a legal dispute with the Challenge, which was previously the largest provider of the programme.
Foxcroft had asked DCMS for details about the NCS Trust’s underspend and said its refusal to provide them sent a “very concerning message from government that the NCS is above public scrutiny”.
Under the law which set up the new body, the Trust is required to lay its annual report and accounts before Parliament, and DCMS argued against releasing the data before it could be verified in this way.
In DCMS's response to Foxcroft’s freedom of information request for details of underspend and the NCS Trust accounts, it said it had decided to withhold information, citing “commercial interests” and “confidential information”.
It carried out a public interest test to determine whether it should release information, and concluded that doing so could "damage these organisations' relationships with their partners and undermine stakeholder confidence”. It added that releasing information from the NCS Trust accounts early could “lead to inaccurate information being presented in public and this could undermine public confidence in NCS”.
But Foxcroft said she is concerned that local youth services have been missing out, and called for any underspend to be redirected to other charities.
“It is absolutely outrageous that the DCMS will not release these figures. This is public money and we have the right to scrutinise where this money is going, especially if the NCS is underspending by a significant amount and failing to justify its budget,” she said.
“Refusing to release these figures sends a very concerning message from government that the NCS is above public scrutiny. If the NCS is failing to attract the numbers, the government must urgently reallocate this underspend to the many fantastic youth charities that are struggling to survive after years of funding cuts. I have written to the secretary of state requesting a meeting to discuss this further.”
Since it was established, the NCS Trust, and its predecessor a community interest company, have received millions of pounds from government, but have repeatedly failed to meet participation targets and faced criticism over how they have spent their money. Meanwhile, funding to youth services has fallen.