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National Citizen Service

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

3. What proportion of the budget of the national citizen service he expects to be spent in the 50% least disadvantaged areas of the country. (34282)

Analysis by Cabinet Office officials shows that NCS pilots are taking place in more than 190 locations across England and that places are evenly distributed among the most and the least deprived areas of England. Just under half of the places are in the 50% least deprived areas and just over half are located in the 50% most deprived areas. The key criterion for selecting pilot providers was the quality of proposals, including their plans to attract a wide cross-section of 16-year-olds and to support disadvantaged young people to take part. The bidders themselves nominated areas where they wanted to deliver the 2011 pilots as part of the competitive commissioning that was completed in November.

I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the research published by the university of Strathclyde, since it was the Conservative party that commissioned it, which highlights the danger that the proposed NCS would in fact benefit more middle-class and well-off young people, rather than those in disadvantaged areas. What account is he taking of that research and how is he changing the programmes to deal with it?

The essence of that programme is that it is designed to bring together young people from a genuine mix of backgrounds. It is not designed particularly to help disadvantaged young people. It will benefit all young people and help to create a much more cohesive society by bringing together people from all backgrounds at an important and formative stage in their lives, during the rites of passage to adulthood. The social mix is an absolutely crucial ingredient of the programme.

Is it not true that the national citizen service requires that the voluntary sector has adequate capacity to deliver additional volunteering, which is contrary to the unequivocal statement made at the last Cabinet Office questions by the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), that the sector would expand? Will the Minister now admit that that statement was untrue. The latest figures for the voluntary sector show a decline of 13,000 jobs in a single quarter. Does he agree that the House was misled and that the statement—

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The House was inadvertently misled, even though the facts show what actually happened. Finally, would the Minister say that the job losses are a clear disaster for his big society aspirations?

The hon. Gentleman asked in particular about the capacity of the voluntary sector in relation to the national citizen service. I can tell him that the number of interested providers massively outweighed the number of places that we were able to fund. There is huge interest in the voluntary sector in taking part in the programme. The point that my right hon. Friend the Minister was making was that our approach to public service reform will open up areas of public service delivery to the voluntary and charitable sector and to social enterprise in a way that has not been done before, for all the talk from the previous Government, and the opportunities going forward will be considerable. My right hon. Friend made the point, as we all have, that there will be a tough time immediately, and we have some steps in place to try to help over that period, but the opportunities down the track are considerable.