It is a pleasure to follow Sir Alan Haselhurst and other hon. Members. I join them in welcoming the Bill and the provisions it puts in place, because I believe that the National Citizen Service should be a rite of passage for young people across our country. The Bill will embed the NCS as a national institution and make it an important part of our national fabric.
In Yorkshire, I have seen at first hand the great work that the challenge trust and the English Football League Trust do on behalf of the NCS. Last year, Barnsley football club’s community sport and education trust oversaw 326 people taking part in the scheme. The fact that this is well over double the number that took part in 2013 gives me confidence that, with the right support, the scheme will become more and more successful.
For many, the NCS is the first step on their youth social action journey, and their involvement in the programme embeds in them the value of service. I am very supportive of the role it plays, because the NCS is a part of the youth social action sector that is going from strength to strength. That fact is very clearly demonstrated by the good work of organisations such as City Year, V Inspired, the Prince’s Trust and the Scout Association. I could speak about the achievements of each of these organisations and many others at length, but I want to confine my remarks to the NCS and what makes it so special.
President Obama said in his farewell speech just the other day:
“For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles...surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook, and never challenge our assumptions.”
The NCS consistently pushes our young people out of such bubbles and brings young people together from different backgrounds, across socio-economic and ethnic lines, which must be both applauded and built on. This is a timely moment to be having this debate, because 2016 was a year when the divisions in our country became more apparent than ever. Accordingly, it is hugely important that national institutions such as the NCS exist, where people can come together and meaningfully engage with those from different backgrounds to bridge those divides.
I would like to draw the House’s attention, however, to research showing that the number of NCS graduates from hard-to-reach backgrounds has fallen since the introduction of the scheme. The hardest to reach are, by their very nature, hard to reach. Like my hon. Friend Mr Reed, I would like the Government to consider what more can be done to make the NCS open to those who need and would benefit from it most. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister considered whether the language used in the royal charter laying out the primary functions and purpose of the NCS Trust is sufficiently focused on the integration aspect of the NCS. Social integration—the act of mixing and forging bonds with those from different backgrounds —is a process. Cohesive communities are the outcome.
For many young people, taking part in the NCS is the beginning of creating the diverse social networks they need to flourish. Therefore, we should focus on ensuring that the hardest-to-reach young people can take up the opportunity afforded to them by the NCS. Programme providers such as The Challenge are doing fantastic work to that end, employing dedicated personal coaches to support young people with complex needs prior to and after completing the NCS, to ensure as few barriers to entry as possible for these young people.