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National Citizen Service

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

The National Citizen Service is growing fast and is proving enormously popular with young people. The research shows clearly that it helps to develop life skills that employers value, and that for every £1 of public money we invest, society is receiving £3 of value back.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I was privileged to attend a challenge network campaign day in my constituency, where social action projects were put into effective and lasting programmes across the constituency. What steps will the Minister take to roll out the National Citizen Service further and expand it, and will he join me in congratulating the efforts of Enfield youngsters?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Enfield youngsters and all youngsters across the country who have participated in the National Citizen Service on their efforts. He may be interested to know that to date the young people have contributed more than 1 million hours of their time to volunteer and do good work in communities. They get a huge amount out of that process, which is why we are ambitious to grow it and have said that we will make at least 90,000 places available next year.

Over the summer, I was delighted to see the excellent work of the National Citizen Service team in Chester, who were redecorating Blacon young people’s project. Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the monetary value of the work that NCS volunteers do for their local communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for the keen interest he has shown in the NCS, and many other hon. Members who took the time to visit programmes over the summer. As I said, young people have to date contributed more than 1 million hours of their time to do good work in their communities. Part of the calculation of £3 back for every £1 we spend is the value attached to the voluntary time they are giving. The other part is their increased employability, which reflects the life and work skills they are gathering through participation.

Is the National Citizen Service not heading for that same graveyard of three-word prime ministerial gimmicks like back to basics, the third way, the citizens charter, the cones hotline and the big society?

Not for the first time, I could not disagree more with the hon. Gentleman. NSC is proving its value across communities. Many Opposition Members visited the programme over the summer and Opposition Front Benchers have nice words to say about it. We are determined to embed it in the youth sector and for it to be part of the landscape of programmes that try to help young people achieve their full potential. We are extremely proud of it. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) was gesticulating as though he was training to be an opera singer. I have no idea why, but let us hear from the hon. Gentleman.

The gesture was one of frustration and disappointment that some Opposition Members do not seem to understand how valuable the National Citizen Service is. Does my hon. Friend agree that what Gloucestershire college has been doing in my constituency to help people on to this wonderful course, which it is now replicating with a mini course for the new sixth form at the Gloucester academy, is an example of how the NCS can spread into the school curriculum too?

I could not agree more, in sharp contrast to my response to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend in Gloucester to see in practice what he is talking about. The NCS is growing fast. We are seeing schools and colleges embrace it precisely because they see the value to their pupils of participating in a programme that helps young people develop the confidence, self-esteem and skills that will be valuable to them in life.

Can the Minister confirm that Serco has cut the funding it makes available to charities under the National Citizen Service? What impact does the Minister think that will have on the charities delivering this important initiative?

Serco leads a consortium that includes many large and small charities. It is an important provider. We manage our providers very carefully, and when there are signs of underperformance, we take action to protect the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman would not know anything about that because he represents a party that over time has not represented the taxpayer sufficiently. In the case of Serco and that consortium, we took action to protect the taxpayer, and I am proud of that.

Last year, 6,000 places on the NCS summer scheme went unfilled, while youth services, which provided continuity, stability and a lifeline for many young people, disappeared. With one in three organisations that provide youth services facing closure, what has the Minister got to say to those young people?

First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her promotion. I think she is the fifth shadow Minister I have faced across this Dispatch Box, and I hope she enjoys her time.

There is a serious point about cuts to local youth services by local authorities. We have taken over responsibility for youth policy and want to engage with local authorities to try to protect and enhance those services, but the hon. Lady misses a fundamental point about the NCS: it funds grass-roots youth organisations across the country to work with young people throughout the year—spring, summer and autumn—and therefore it is part of the solution.