I very much welcome the Bill. It is a small Bill, and in many ways uncontroversial, its key strategic objective being to establish the effective governance of the National Citizen Service, but my sense is that seeing it in that way hides its true significance. What it really focuses on is how we live together, and there is no more important issue facing our country. How do we create a nation at ease with itself and foster a notion of service to others among our young people? Obviously that is vital, given the divisions in our society—so clearly exposed last year—around class, race, geography and religion, and a general fear that these tensions might continue to escalate. Those divisions suggest a brittle country, so resolving this and healing division will indeed take time, but the Bill will help. So although it is a small Bill, it is significant.
More generally, how do we ensure that our young people are knowledgeable about the country they inhabit in all its complexity, and how do we build an ethic of service among the younger generations? Really the clue is in the name: a programme of national service on behalf of our fellow citizens, the National Citizen Service. It is a simple notion, but an important one in shaping the character of our young people and the future character of our country more generally.
Across my east London constituency, which is one of the fastest changing communities in the UK, and one that has recently experienced issues with extremism and violence, I have seen at first hand the benefits of the programme: increasing the breadth of young people’s experiences; mixing with people from other backgrounds; and building links between generations, for example through new volunteer support for the elderly in the community. It is helping to integrate communities such as ours.
Across the country some 275,000 young people have already taken part in the programme, and a couple of the results are worth noting. An Ipsos MORI evaluation found that 82% of people leave the programme feeling more positive about people from different backgrounds and better prepared for the future. The programme is building a legacy of service and volunteering. I was struck by one statistic that the Minister mentioned earlier, which is that in the 16 months following participation in the programme, the cohort that went through in 2013 and 2014 contributed a further 8 million hours of service in the community. The ethos of the NCS—social cohesion, social mobility and social engagement in order to build resilient young people—appears to be working.
I think that we can all agree that in order to develop further, the NCS needs to be beyond party politics. The Bill will help ensure that no one party can lay claim to the NCS. The governance changes will help develop it into an enduring, independent national institution, one beyond party politics, that appeals to everyone. That has to be a good thing. In order to be successful, it cannot be seen as another Government scheme, because that would put people off, and the evidence so far suggests that participants do not see it that way. That is further evidence for why we need to maintain the cross-party support.
The Bill will ensure the transition from a community interest company to an organisation with a royal charter. The NCS Trust will be a new body, and the Bill will ensure the effective transfer of staff and functions to the new trust from the current body. The royal charter requires the trust to ensure equality of access irrespective of background and ensures a flexible fee structure that will not inhibit participation. Much of the Bill is about the accountability of the trust. Accounts audited by the National Audit Office will be laid before Parliament. The trust must publish an annual business plan and at the end of the year it will supply an annual report to be laid before Parliament. That all seems pretty sensible and uncontroversial.
I want to make four points. I hope that they will not be seen as controversial, because they are intended to strengthen the Bill.