National Citizen Service
The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a UK Government voluntary personal and social development programme for 15–17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland, funded largely by government money. It was formally announced in 2010 by Prime Minister David Cameron as part of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government's Big Society initiative, and it was launched in 2011.
After the 2015 general election, the programme was continued under the Conservative government. In October 2016 Cameron, who had resigned as Prime Minister, became chairman of the NCS Trust's patrons' board.
The scheme takes place in the spring, summer or autumn coinciding with school holidays. Groups of teenagers undertake a week-long residential visit, usually to an activity centre for an Outward Bound-style course in the countryside involving physical and team building activities. After this, volunteers undertake a residential week, gaining a taste of independent living and learning a variety of skills for their future. In the third (and sometimes fourth) week, participants plan and deliver a 'social action' project in their local community, often to raise awareness of or fundraise for a particular cause. Those completing the course receive a certificate at a graduation ceremony. The certificate is signed by the Prime Minister in office at the time of graduation.
From 2013 onwards, volunteers have paid £50 each to take part in the scheme, although there are bursaries for those from low-income households. The expenditure on the scheme in 2012 was estimated at about £1,400 per individual and the scheme received almost half the Office for Civil Society’s total budget in 2013. The numbers who took part in the scheme were 26,000 in 2012, 40,000 in 2013, 57,000 in 2014, 75,000 in 2015, and 93,000 in 2016.
The programme was designed and piloted in 2009 by social integration charity The Challenge, which remains the largest provider of the programme. When the scheme was launched critics expected it to be an unpopular and unsuccessful non-military version of national service. Subsequently, however, it achieved cross-party support in Parliament.
In the 2016 Queen's Speech, it was announced that the scheme would be made permanent through a National Citizen Service Bill which, once enacted, will see statutory framework for the programme put in place, as part of a £1.26 billion investment in NCS. The bill was introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Ashton of Hyde.
In January 2017 the National Audit Office reported that the NCS had "weaknesses" in management and governance, was inefficient and had "not prioritised cost control". It estimated that just 213,000 people would be participating in the programme in 2020–21, compared to a target of 360,000. The report suggested costs must be reduced by 29% in order to meet participation targets.
The scheme is delivered through a number of Regional Delivery Partners (RDPs) and Local Delivery Partners (LDPs). The following organisations have been selected as RDPs for 2015–18:
- The Challenge Network
- CXK Ltd
- EFL Trust (English Football League)
- vInspired and the National Youth Agency
- Lincolnshire and Rutland Education Business Partnership
- Reed in Partnership
A supply chain of over 200 organisations is involved in delivering the NCS. Each RDP is responsible for its team of LDPs and their delivery.
A pilot scheme took place in Wales in 2014 and a report examining whether it duplicates or complements existing schemes has been commissioned. Cameron urged the Welsh Government to consider taking up the scheme and offering it across Wales. These plans are on hold however, following the trial provider, Engage4Life, going into liquidation due to severe financial troubles and the organisation owing NCS Trust in the region of £780,000.
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