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National Citizen Service

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

2. What plans the Government have to increase the number of young people participating in the National Citizen Service. (904713)

We have ambitious plans to make NCS a rite of passage for young people. We have committed more than £1 billion to grow the programme to reach the majority of 16-year-olds by 2021 and we would like NCS to benefit every young person, regardless of where they live in the United Kingdom. It is therefore extremely disappointing that there is currently no NCS programme in Scotland or Wales, despite the generous funding made available through the autumn spending review.

Last summer, I was invited to a highly successful lunch event for veterans and others organised by a group of young people through the NCS scheme. This year, those on that scheme are running a social action project, which involves creating a sensory garden for young adults with learning difficulties. Does the Minister agree that the skills learnt through the programme—confidence building and teamwork—are making a real difference to young people in getting them into work and closing our skills gap?

Indeed. It is absolutely true that NCS is creating a generation of more responsible and engaged young people. The skills that NCS participants in Taunton are developing are echoed widely around England and Northern Ireland. Indeed, 90% of participants say that NCS helps them develop key skills for the future. UCAS now recognises NCS, and taking part is becoming a sought-after addition to any young person’s CV.

The Minister will know that I am a great supporter of NCS, but is it not underfunded? At the moment, we must be honest and admit that it reaches mostly into more affluent communities and not those with kids from poorer backgrounds. That is the truth and the Minister should do something about it.

Two hundred thousand young people have been through the NCS programme so far and we are aiming to increase that number significantly by 2020. We have made £1 billion available to do that. We are doing extremely well on diversity: 21% of NCS participants are eligible for free school meals compared with the national average of 8%, and 27% of participants are from non-white backgrounds, compared with 19% throughout the country. We are therefore doing better than the national average.

Order. The Government should have grouped this question with Question 4. For some reason, they did not do so, but I will take that question now.

4. I am very grateful. The Minister is right that NCS is proving invaluable for young people across the country. In Dorset, there was recently a successful scheme called “From yard to garden” about replanting trees. I would be grateful if the Minister gave advice and guidance to Members of all parties about how they can get more involved in that excellent programme. (904717)

I know that my hon. Friend is doing all he can to support the NCS in his constituency. Every Member can help by visiting a local NCS programme to raise awareness and ensuring that local schools and colleges encourage students to participate. The Secretary of State for Education and I will shortly write to all Members to highlight how everyone can make a contribution to NCS.

Last summer, I visited an NCS scheme in Dukinfield in my constituency and I was hugely impressed by the work with young people, but many of those young people raised with me the wider cuts to youth services. Has the Minister conducted an impact assessment on how those cuts have affected the aims, ambitions and objectives of the NCS programme?

That question gives me the opportunity to say how disappointed I am that local authorities choose to make cuts in their service provision. We are investing more than £1 billion in NCS in this Parliament and the overwhelming majority of that funding will flow through delivery organisations, most of which are public or VCSE—voluntary, community and social enterprise—organisations. Beyond that, we are also investing more widely in the youth sector through programmes such as Step Up To Serve and the British Youth Council, and supporting local authorities to reshape their youth provision.

10. The Minister gave a statistic in response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but what steps is he taking to encourage NCS participation by young people from a black and minority ethnic background? (904723)

I thank my hon. Friend for asking about the participation targets. It is really important that every young person—every 16-year-old—gets the opportunity to take part in NCS, because the programme not only creates a more cohesive society and adds to social mobility and social engagement, but delivers value for money. The statistics that I cited earlier show that it is a programme of which we, the Government and the whole country can be very proud.