A truly shared society requires everyone to have a voice and the power to assert it. There is no single model for achieving that: how we give people more control depends on the circumstances and context in which we operate. When the state sets up new organisations or services, it often fails to give people on the receiving end a real say, despite the fact that organisations benefit from higher levels of input from their users. If the NCS is to remain relevant to young people and in touch with their lives, it is important that they have a real voice in what it does and how it operates, now and in future. That means giving young people a direct role in NCS governance and decision making.
I was involved in setting up one of the biggest community youth trusts in the country, the Young Lambeth Co-operative, which took control of a number of the council’s youth services. The intention in setting it up was to give young people a real voice by reserving half the positions on the governing board for them, and ensuring that those young people who were appointed properly represented young people from more deprived backgrounds who had the greatest need of the services on offer.
In the absence of a mutualised structure, which is not being proposed for the NCS, it would still be good to see the NCS take a similar approach to that of the Young Lambeth Co-operative and ensure that young people have a key role at every level. That will be critical to making the NCS credible and attractive to as wide a range of young people as possible, particularly those who are categorised as harder to reach. The governance changes in the version of the draft royal charter that I have seen are important. There is to be a new board of patrons, but the NCS would benefit from more young people, and fewer politicians, at the top.
The NCS has the Opposition’s full support. I am raising concerns in the spirit of constructive criticism, with the intention of improving the organisation’s operation. We want to see some changes in the Bill that we believe will strengthen the focus on integration, ensure that the NCS reaches as wide a range of young people as possible, and give young people a bigger voice at every level in the organisation. Such changes would help the NCS to meet its laudable objectives, and we hope that they can be achieved through consensus.
We live in a country with a generous and open spirit, full of talented and ambitious young people who want to make a difference to their own lives, their families, and the community around them. But to do more, they need a bigger voice and the power to make it heard. Civil society organisations such as the NCS have an important role to play in making that happen. Ours is already a sharing society in which people instinctively co-operate; it is government that needs to catch up. The measure will be whether the Government make real progress in opening up and sharing their power with people so that they can make, or at least influence, the changes that affect their own lives.
The Bill may be small, but it has some very big ideas behind it: power, opportunity, community and contribution. Given the chance, young people and the NCS have much to teach us, and the Government, about those great national themes. We wish them every success in doing that in future.