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National Citizen Service Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for introducing the Bill and almost propelling it straight to Third Reading in his enthusiasm. This is a modest Bill in size about a programme that is large in aspiration. Building on the success of NCS so far, the Bill is mainly concerned with establishing sound and transparent governance arrangements. We want to keep it focused on this defined purpose.

Like several of your Lordships, I visited NCS this summer. In the garden of a care home outside Leeds, I saw a group of young people who had never met before that summer. They came from different estates, suburbs and villages. They had united as a group, had fun and adventure and were now serving their community. I could see how that group of young people would come out of NCS better equipped for the future and how the community around the care home would have their lives enriched by their new garden. That experience was not unique to a group in Leeds. The same thing was happening to tens of thousands of young people this summer, and thousands of communities benefited.

The more young people take part across all parts of the country, the more transformative NCS can be. A maximum of four weeks long, with no cost if parents cannot afford it, NCS is accessible to everyone. In 2015, 17% of NCS participants were eligible for free school meals, compared with around 10% of that age group as a whole. Of their own accord, some young people take to Twitter and say that NCS changed their life. Those are not the words of people who have access to opportunities like this every day.

However, the real strength of the programme is that it appeals to people from all backgrounds and brings them together. They learn together, live together and form one team. The independent Ipsos MORI evaluation found that 82% of people leave the programme feeling more positive about people from different backgrounds. They also leave feeling stronger and better prepared for the future. The same evaluation showed that 83% of participants graduate from NCS feeling more capable than they had realised they were. They have seen their confidence, communication and creativity soar. They have designed their own social action project to support their community.

NCS is a programme for young people, but it is not only the young who benefit. Residents of a Weymouth care home benefited from a new sensory garden built by NCS participants. East Durham mothers and fathers of premature babies benefited from care packages prepared and distributed by NCS participants. Merseyside Huntington’s Disease Association benefited from funds raised by NCS participants. The NCS Trust estimates that in the 16 months following the summer programmes, the 2013 and 2014 graduates gave back an additional 8 million hours of volunteering to their communities.

Together these elements form the ethos of NCS: social cohesion, social mobility and social engagement. NCS is one opportunity in a broader social action journey. Up and down the country, many excellent charities and organisations offer a broad range of programmes for people before, after and alongside it. We also believe in the value of a single, unifying rite of passage for young people, and that is NCS.

The NCS Bill is short and focused. It works in conjunction with a royal charter. No single party can lay claim to NCS as many voices were involved in its development. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, sits on the board of the current body. The Government believe that the NCS Trust has the potential to become a national institution. Incorporating the NCS Trust through a royal charter sends an important message that the trust is a body beyond partisan political concerns and must continue to appeal to young people of all backgrounds. A draft of the royal charter has been published as a Command Paper and was laid in the House when the Bill was published for noble Lords to see. The Bill begins by referencing that royal charter and the functions of the NCS Trust that it describes. These functions capture, in practical terms, the heart of what NCS is here to achieve.

The NCS Trust will be a new body in a new form designed to endure, but we must not lose the expertise and experience of those who have worked in the current body. Under their stewardship, NCS has become the fastest-growing youth movement in this country for 100 years. The Bill therefore makes provision for schemes for the transfer of staff, property, rights and liabilities from the current body to the NCS Trust.

The Bill allows the Government to fund the NCS Trust out of moneys authorised by Parliament. In addition, it allows the trust to charge fees for participation at variable rates so that anyone, no matter their background, can afford to go on NCS. At present, the maximum fee is £50, but the average is less, and many participants pay no fee at all. The royal charter requires the trust to ensure equality of access to NCS for young people regardless of their background or circumstances.

As NCS has such value to the nation and is paid for by it, it is essential that the public trust it and can have confidence in the public money spent on it by the NCS Trust. The bulk of the Bill is therefore a considered series of measures to hold the NCS Trust to account for that funding. The trust must prepare annual accounts, and the National Audit Office will be its auditor. The accounts will be laid before Parliament.

At the start of each year, the trust must publish an annual business plan setting out its strategic priorities and annual objectives. At the end of the year, the trust must provide government with an annual report that will in turn be laid before Parliament. The report will set out how the trust has fulfilled its priorities and main functions, and the Bill lists a series of specific requirements that it must also address. These include the value for money of the programme and the extent to which it has mixed people from different backgrounds.

The potential for NCS to be a unifying force in a divided society is enormous. NCS can break down barriers at the very time—the transition to adulthood—that they could become entrenched. Independent evaluation found that a striking 95% of participants said that NCS gave them a chance to get to know people whom they would not normally meet.

Finally, the Bill requires the trust to notify government if a breach of contract results in serious financial consequences, a provider is in serious financial difficulty or a member of staff commits fraud. This will allow government to take rapid steps to minimise the loss of public money. The NCS Trust will be subject to the Freedom of information Act, the Equality Act and the Public Records Acts. Together, these measures will ensure that the NCS Trust works efficiently, effectively and transparently.

The other purpose of the Bill is to help more young people to hear about NCS. The Bill enables HMRC to pass on information about NCS to the young people, parents or carers whose addresses it holds. In the same way as receiving a national insurance number marks a coming of age at 16, we want this letter with an invitation to go on NCS to mark it, too. The Bill will in this way help make NCS a rite of passage for the young people of this country.

This Bill and the royal charter aim to build on the success of NCS so far and create an institution that the public respect and believe in and that is worthy of the task before it: to change lives and help tackle some of our country’s biggest social challenges. I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ views. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 3:18 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, I have a declared interest in the register, mentioned by the Minister. I am grateful to him for commencing his speech today by mentioning the impact of NCS on young people and the impact of the work of young people on communities and the most vulnerable. If this Bill is worth anything, it is to embed what NCS means for young people themselves rather than the technicalities, the charter and the necessary accountability provisions that are spelt out in what is, after all, a modest measure.

I offer my support for the Bill and in doing so recognise the enormous contribution over generations that not only individual volunteers but organisations committed to full and part-time volunteering have made in providing the backcloth to the decision of the Government four years ago substantially to fund an experience of volunteering for young people around the time that they reach the end of key stage 4, and the way in which that might be embedded as part of a much broader commitment by the British nation to encouraging people to understand the value of mutuality and reciprocity. It is why I believe that there can be no political party in this House or beyond that would doubt the importance of the experience that young people will gain from National Citizen Service.

Embedding, as I know from my time in Government, is a critical feature of something surviving. I will come in a moment to the issue of one endeavour that I was involved in, namely citizenship education, but many good things foundered because there was not the commitment of subsequent Ministers or even the same Government to the initiatives started. If this Bill enables us to embed that experience for young people and then build on it, so much the better.

The antecedents are substantial. Almost 20 years ago, we commenced the initiative Millennium Volunteers, which built on a number of volunteer programmes—again, full and part-time—that already existed: Community Service Volunteers, of which I was once a member of the trust and which is now Volunteering Matters; the Prince’s Trust with its short programmes; the national Conservation Volunteers; Groundwork; and very many other initiatives that led to some subsequent government initiatives as well. I pay tribute to Dame Elisabeth Hoodless who, over her many years leading CSV, pioneered the idea of an experience for all young people and the issue of full-time service, which I know my noble friend Lady Royall will refer to in greater detail.

I want to spell out three things. First, it is critical that the National Citizen Service follows an existing pattern of commitment by young people to the idea of citizenship and commitment to others. That is why it is critical that the review the Government undertake of citizenship education and related issues takes into account the vital nature—not just for recruiting young people to NCS but for their own growth as young adults and the commitment they can make to society—of ensuring that citizenship education is reinforced. At the moment, there are real dangers. The numbers being trained to teach citizenship has fallen dramatically. The in-service continuing professional development is at risk. The question of those encouraged to take the GCSE, even though it is a core subject, has been in considerable doubt. Of course, A-level citizenship is to cease, along with a number of other A-levels over the next two years. Frankly, that requires a further look and review. The regulator and department should be much more on the ball in terms of what is happening in future.

We have the Government talking at great length about character education, as though that can be taught outside the broader experience we are debating this afternoon. Of course, we have the Prevent strategy. None of these things can possibly be seen in isolation. They are critically linked together in terms of developing that experience of giving and receiving.

When I was 16, I volunteered to go and see an old lady called Mrs Plum. I used to go every week in term time until, two years later, I was leaving the school for the blind to go back to Sheffield. I went to tell Mrs Plum that I hoped I had been some help to her over the two years. As soon as I told her I was returning to Sheffield, her response was, “Well, David, I really hope I’ve been some use to you over the past two years”. This is of course a reciprocal venture. We give and we gain. Volunteering shows that. As the Minister described, it builds the confidence, self-esteem and outward-going nature of young people. It helps develop their understanding of the world around them. It also teaches them how much value they can give to others, and what a reward that can be.

The opportunity for volunteering needs to be widened. As I said a moment ago, this should be an experience that flows from already understanding why social action matters and why Step Up To Serve, with the uniformed organisations, is important.

I pause only to make an appeal that I have made many times in my life: voluntary organisations committed to and working with young people should work together. People think that the voluntary sector, the charity sector, which I have always embraced, is full of loving people who desire to work together and want nothing more than to encourage other organisations. I wish it were true. Unfortunately, it is not. What the NCS Trust is doing is not a threat to other organisations, uniformed or otherwise; it is an opportunity for them to work together. The NCS Trust needs to learn more about how to work collaboratively, but so do many other organisations, because this can be a win-win if people are prepared to commit in that way. So what comes after the National Citizen Service, as well as what went before it, is absolutely critical to success.

I hope we will be able to build on this with whatever review the Government feel is appropriate. If it is not going to be a commission, I hope it will be a serious review of how we can make this work for every young person and expand the experience in terms of what they gain from the NCS: the four weeks, including the residential; mixing with young people from very different backgrounds, which the Minister mentioned; and the way in which social action is encouraged and young people are thereby enabled to understand the impact that they have on others. I hope also that it will encourage full-time opportunities, perhaps leading to a year of service. No doubt my noble friend will refer to this.

I need to put some questions to the Minister. This is an exploratory endeavour in which we are on a journey together, and putting the quality of outcome before numerical targets is essential. My own Government, including in the eight years I was in Cabinet, were bedevilled by setting targets and if we did not meet them it looked like failure. The present Government do it with inward migration. It does not matter how well you do, if you set an impossible target you will always fail to achieve it, with the consequence that people believe that you have not achieved the outcome. In this case, the outcome is the experience gained by young people. Therefore, the 92,000 that were on National Citizen Service this year is a phenomenal achievement in the time it has taken to build that outcome measure. My first request is: please do not set targets that are impossible to meet and result in diluting the brand and undermining confidence in it.

My second question concerns the transition. The Minister mentioned this, but in mechanistic terms. There has to be a commitment to transition from the existing board to the oversight under the new arrangements. Please let there be time to do that. If not, there will be a dislocation in that transition process which will be damaging to young people.

Thirdly, please reinforce again and again that this is going to be independent of government. It cannot be a non-departmental public body. Young people do not like government schemes. It is just a fact. If we have not learned it bitterly over the past 40 years, starting with the youth training programmes, we might learn it now. Maximum independence, with proper oversight and accountability, is essential. I understand oversight and accountability. I understand that the Government have had their fingers burned in recent years with large sums of public money, which have to be accounted for and must be used wisely. But let us try to get the balance right. Control-freakery is not a feature of an individual Government; it is built into the psyche of government processes and procedures.

Finally, can we make sure that the transition includes independent scrutiny of who is appointed? It is my view, and that of the National Citizen Service Trust, that it would be entirely wrong to have a formal government or opposition appointee on the board. Obviously, the chair is appointed through government but the board should be appointed openly through normal public service recruitment programmes and should be seen to be independent. The board should not be paid. Those of us who serve on the board currently would be horrified to think that we were receiving funding for doing the job. I want to pay tribute to Stephen Greene, the present chairman, who has freely and readily given the most enormous amount of time to getting NCS off the ground and making it work. He is committed to the future.

We no longer have a duty on public bodies in the Bill; the original draft did. I hope that there will be an entitlement built in so that schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities will not feel that this is an imposition, but take on board the idea of an entitlement for young people to feel that this is something that builds a generation for the future. I believe that we can do it together if the Government are prepared to listen to any sensible suggestions made during the passage of the Bill to enhance its support and its impact. If these suggestions are helpful, so much the better.

I know that this afternoon, those who speak will do so from the heart, because all of us, from all parties, care deeply that we create a nation with a commitment to giving to each other, to opening up civil society and democracy, and to making sure that what we do for young people is more than simply teaching them the basics, but teaching them the foundation for life. That is why I am prepared to give my wholehearted support to seeing the National Citizen Service, along with its partners, succeed in the future.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 3:32 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, I regret that I have to begin with an apology. For the first time ever in my time in your Lordships’ House, I will not be able to be here for the end of the debate. I apologise for that: it is the first time that has happened, and I really hope it will be the last.

I asked to speak today because there are a number of points that I feel have to be made. This is an intriguing Bill, one that sets a challenge for your Lordships’ House. I say that because the fact that the National Citizen Service provides young people with a great opportunity to meet new people, try new activities and develop skills and confidence at the critical age of 16 or 17 is not up for debate. However, pretty well everything else in this Bill should be.

The decision to spend £l billion on one project at a time when public services for young people are being decimated is a political decision that the Government will have to take and will have to defend. No doubt they can do that. There is a much more fundamental question, however, to which this House needs to have an answer. Why is such a large amount of money being given to a single organisation that has a comparatively weak track record in the field? The Minister will no doubt point to the fact that the Cabinet Office spent a considerable amount of money—I wish he would tell us how much—on commissioning surveys into the effectiveness of NCS. I urge your Lordships to read the survey report that has been produced by Ipsos MORI. It is a very extensive and elaborate evaluation and produces some excellent statistics. In particular, the cost-benefit analysis that it provides is exceptional. It points out that for every pound spent on the scheme, between £1.25 and £4.65 of benefits accrue from it. That is impressive stuff, and any charity or voluntary organisation would be happy beyond measure to have those sorts of data at their fingertips.

There is, however, one big flaw in that evaluation. It was not a comparative evaluation: it sheds no light on the question of whether this service could be delivered more effectively and efficiently by anybody else. It does not do that because the question was never asked. To go from the state in which the NCS has been over the past few years, with exceptional government support, to a huge infusion of funds on the basis of some flawed research is really quite dangerous. It falls to your Lordships’ House to do the due diligence on this proposal, which has not been done by the Government so far.

I have not been able to find the audited accounts of the National Citizen Service; I am sure they exist but they are not available on the organisation’s website. Will the Minister ensure that a copy is available to Members of your Lordships’ House along with the organisation’s annual report? According to the last available audited accounts, roughly what was the income of the NCS, what was its rough expenditure and what level of free reserves did it have at the time of audit? I ask that because it is important information for your Lordships to know before we invest this amount of money into the organisation.

While I could not find out as much as I wanted about the NCS, I looked in some detail at the work of its biggest delivery partner, The Challenge Network. I did so because it sent me a briefing, as it probably did to other noble Lords. This charity was set up in 2009 with five employees; today it has 700 staff, an income of £53 million—£47 million of which comes from the NCS—and it has free reserves of £9 million. In a period when hundreds of charities have either merged or closed altogether, this one has had a charmed existence. However, as demonstrated by its annual report, particularly its accounts, it is almost wholly dependent on central government for its funding. So we have a proposal to invest a lot of money in the NCS when its biggest delivery partner is similarly reliant on continued central government funding. We have a duty to examine that in some detail because I am not convinced that it is a recipe for sustainability.

Unsurprisingly, other organisations in the voluntary sector have raised questions about this huge investment into one particular organisation. They have done so because they can see that in these straitened times it is not so much a competitor as a game-changer in terms of its impact on local volunteering. Here I pick up the points made by the NCVO when it asked that the NCS should have a duty upon it to have further and better collaboration within the voluntary sector. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about the mythical view of the voluntary sector as a place where sweetness and light reign: my own personal experience is that in the voluntary sector people do not stab you in the back simply because it is quicker and easier to stab you in the front and they have the moral authority to do so.

Given that there is likely to be a significant reduction in money for volunteering, particularly from local authorities, we need to ensure that if this is going to be the big volunteering game in town then it is done in full collaboration with, particularly, local organisations and small organisations. The briefing from The Challenge Network prayed in aid the fact that results could be achieved only by big organisations that had the economies of scale to deliver them. What ought to be running through people’s heads when they read phrases like that is the Work Programme, under which investment that was promised for small voluntary organisations did not happen and big suppliers like A4E were found wanting.

Great claims have been made for the National Citizen Service. It claims to be unique in its extent and reach with young people from all sections of society. Members of your Lordships’ House who are also Members of the Select Committee on Charities would have heard the Church Urban Fund making similar claims last week. We therefore need to interrogate the uniqueness of the claims made by NCS and its backers.

In introducing the Bill at a meeting with Peers yesterday, the Minister said this Bill is intended to make NCS more sustainable and accountable “if it receives more public money”. That seems to lie behind the decision to make it a royal charter body. It is intriguing that the Government have chosen the most cumbersome governing structure possible. Other royal charter bodies often talk about just how difficult it is to make even minor changes to their governing documents because they have to get Privy Council approval. No doubt, the Minister will say that the Government are doing a belt-and-braces job. It looks a lot more like belt-and-braces and a load of cement. We have to consider whether this is the best treatment and why this organisation is being treated in such an exceptional way.

Charities and voluntary organisations are under great pressure to prove their efficacy and efficiency. They have to compete for funds, deliver contracts and prove their worth to funders. It is right and proper that they should. In those circumstances, this decision to treat this organisation on exceptional, favourable terms must be questioned. We have seen what happens when Government become enthralled by a particular organisation, such as Kids Company or A4e. When £l billion is at stake we really should not allow such a mistake to happen again. I look forward to receiving answers from the Minister in due course and to detailed consideration of this Bill in Committee.

Photo of Lord Maude of Horsham Lord Maude of Horsham Conservative 3:41 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, I am glad to have the chance to speak in this important debate. I was involved early on in the life of NCS. When David Cameron appointed me Minister of the Cabinet Office in 2010, straight after the general election, he said: “Oh, and by the way, you’ll have responsibility for implementing National Citizen Service”. Knowing as I did that this was very much his personal vision, personal idea and pet scheme, it was perhaps not the most reassuring task to be given. I am hugely grateful to my colleague Nick Hurd, who was my deputy in the Cabinet Office and who very personally, in a very hands-on way, took responsibility for making this vision a reality. It was a huge privilege and responsibility for us both to take this through. It was designed and conceived as a rite of passage for young people from childhood to adulthood. It took them out of their comfort zone. It brought young people together from all backgrounds; it was of the essence that there was a social mix and that this was a process of young people getting to know people they would not have otherwise come across.

I urge your Lordships, if you have the chance next summer, to go and visit some of these schemes and talk to the young people, because you will hear some incredibly moving stories. I visited many schemes over this period and talked to hundreds of participants, and a couple of stories stick with me. I asked a young Afro-Caribbean girl from south London what she was getting out of it and she said: “It is often said older people don’t understand young people. What you don’t understand is that young people often don’t understand each other”. She also said: “I have spent time in this scheme with young people I would have thought came from another planet and yet I find we have the same interests, the same concerns, the same anxieties and the same kind of aspirations”. The story that that told me of the social cohesion that can come out of the small-scale stories here was powerful.

I also recall a young man in one of the schemes in Yorkshire. I asked him what he was getting out of it and he said—this has always stayed with me—“I always thought I wasn’t very likeable and yet I have come here in a different context, out of school, out of the existing relationships, put in with a lot of other young people who I didn’t know, and I have made friends in a way I wouldn’t have made friends before”.

If you talk to the staff, they will all say that in the short weeks that the NCS scheme takes, you can see almost before your eyes young people maturing, growing and becoming bigger people. That is incredibly powerful and moving. When you talk to the young people and ask them what they are getting out of it, they will all talk about getting more confidence; they are becoming more confident. The reality is that there is a social and economic payback from the scheme. Some of it is short term, for sure, but some of it will be much longer term. You get young people who know themselves better, know each other better and therefore know their country better; who are more likely to be ready for work and employable when they leave school; and for whom social action is much more likely to have become a habit.

I am delighted that the Bill is making the scheme permanent. That is really important. I give credit to Members in other parties who have embraced the scheme. When the scheme was very much the personal vision of one Prime Minister from one party, it would have been easy for other parties to want to stay clear of it and for a potential different Government to want to change it. I pay particular credit to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for the part he played in gaining wider support for it across the parties.

The Bill makes the scheme a permanent feature of the landscape of our nation, and that is extremely good news. I have one or two issues with it. I think it is fair to say that the journey from 2010 to here was not always easy. At the beginning, officials wanted us to issue a White Paper. That is normally the response of civil servants—I say that with a little trepidation, a few feet away from the former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. We resisted a White Paper: we did not want it to be set in stone, we wanted to get on and do it, try new ways of doing things, see what worked and develop it on that basis. That has been the approach all the way through, and it will be incredibly important in the years ahead that it does not become set in stone; the new trust must want to innovate.

In the early days, many of the existing youth organisations rather resented what we were doing. They thought it was distracting money from supporting their organisations. Then, when we had resisted that, some of them tried to persuade us to badge what they were already doing as NCS. I remember several of them coming to say, “We do something pretty close to this, so why can’t we just get the credit and the money for it?”. We said, “No, this is distinctive, new, doing something genuinely different from any other scheme”. It was important that we were rigorous in insisting that it remained different.

Then, when it became too big for it sensibly to be managed in-house by our brilliant team in the Cabinet Office, we were urged to create a quango. I so strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said: that it must not become an NDPB—or whatever the initials are. We resisted that; we insisted that the NCS trust should be genuinely independent of government. Obviously, we were going to take a very close interest in it, because it was disbursing very large amounts of public money, but I believe that it was right for it to be wholly independent from government.

We faced the same argument when we were setting up Big Society Capital, the world’s first social investment bank, taking money from dormant bank and building society accounts and putting it into a social investment bank to support social enterprises and charities. This was the brainchild of Sir Ronald Cohen. The previous Labour Government had planned that it should be a quango, but again we insisted that it should be totally independent from government and unrestrained by the sense that the Government were always looking over its shoulder.

The royal charter approach gives it permanence, which is important and a clear positive. The danger is that the independence becomes imperilled. I do not think I have heard the phrase arm’s-length body here but when that phrase is used it is normally meant to convey the sense that it is at a distance from government —but as we know, of course, at the end of an arm is a hand, and the hand can be used to hold and control the body. That must not be the case with this new entity.

Of course I understand the need for accountability with very large amounts of money. I do not think that I am open to accusations of being cavalier about public money. The work I led in the Cabinet Office in the last Government saved the taxpayer more than £50 billion accumulatively, so I take the responsibility for public money pretty seriously. However, it has often occurred to me that the Civil Service is often much more interested in scrutinising to death how others spend public money, rather than in how government itself spends money. We need to beware of the danger of creating accountability to the extent that it inhibits the entrepreneurialism which is important here.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, on the appointments. I would go further than he did and say that the Government should not even be appointing the chair of this body. Yes, the chair should be subject to approval by the Government. I agree with the noble Lord that Stephen Greene, the current chair of the NCS Trust, has been brilliant. He is entrepreneurial, passionate and knowledgeable; he has devoted a huge amount of time and energy to making this work. However, he is unconventional, and frankly I doubt whether he would have survived going through the often tortuous process of the public appointments morass that we often struggled with.

I support the Bill but I hope we can explore in Committee how it can be less of an arm’s-length body and more of a body that is located at least one step away from government so that the Government can intervene—that is obviously necessary with this amount of money being spent—but not day by day, week by week or month by month. It should be at a distance where, to intervene, the Government have to do something proactive so that this is not routine control. It needs to be an event out of the ordinary that prompts intervention by the Government. I hope we can explore that as we take this important Bill forward.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 3:53 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support this Bill but of course it needs and deserves proper scrutiny and proper amendment in due course.

At the start, I have to associate myself with everything my noble friend Lord Blunkett said about citizenship lessons, which I believe are critical for the well-being of our civic society. I trust that the Government will not only do more but will review the present lamentable situation. I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive introduction to the Bill. I am a great supporter of volunteering for people of all ages. It is good for the volunteers, for the people whom they serve and for society as a whole. However, my one concern at this time of financial constraint, including in vital local authority services, is that volunteers are increasingly required to fulfil rules that should be undertaken by public services. However, this is not the case with young people and it is not the case with the NCS.

Sitting on the Labour Benches, I am of course partisan but I warmly welcome the initiative taken by David Cameron in establishing the NCS and enabling it to grow over the last four or five years. It is a tribute to Michael Lynas, who does a fine job as the chief executive officer of the trust and his team that the trust has successfully grown and retained the support of all political parties. That must and will continue. I also pay tribute to the fantastic volunteering organisations up and down the land that work with young people.

As we have heard, and as the charter makes clear, the raison d’etre of the NCS is to promote social cohesion, social engagement and social mobility, to boost the confidence and resilience of young people—and that is exactly what it does. I have to admit that, when I was first introduced to the NCS, I was sceptical and I assumed that like many other projects, it would be dominated by middle-class youngsters whose parents knew how to get the best out of the system for their children. However, my fears were assuaged when I talked to graduates, who told me of their fantastic experiences, spending time with people who in their daily lives they would never come across, because so many of us live in ghettos, rarely meeting people whose lives are different due to class, race, religion or disability. I now know that is one of the great strengths of the NCS—bringing people together, breaking down barriers and enabling them to establish lasting networks. It has also enhanced participation in civic society, encouraging young people to take an interest in debate on matters of local or national interest—working with Bite the Ballot, for example, to promote their understanding of how to participate in national and local elections, thus empowering them.

The Prime Minister, Mrs May, has talked much about social mobility, which is encouraging, but it should not be thought that the expansion of NCS was a silver bullet. It is but one tool—albeit a very necessary one—in the tool box. While the NCS has my strong support, and I welcome this Bill, it is in my view not ambitious enough. While not undermining the NCS in any way, it could do so much more to sustain the sector and embed the concept of volunteering in our society. When a young person has volunteered, they are not only more able to meet the challenges of future life, they also enhance their employability. I have spoken to several large employers of late, who say that when considering the CVs of young people applying for apprenticeships, graduate training or other employment, more and more weight is given to the social action that they have undertaken. That is why it has become more and more important to ensure that all young people, including especially the hard to reach, can take up the opportunities to volunteer. I know that this is the intention of the NCS, but it is not explicit in either the Bill or charter, and reaching the hard to reach requires intensive action and funding. We should therefore table an amendment making specific reference to attracting the hardest-to-reach young people. There are some NCS projects relating to hard to reach and, if they are successful, I suggest that some of the funds should be ring-fenced for this specific purpose.

Social cohesion is one of the key principles of NCS. The experience and result of the Brexit referendum laid bare the depths of the divisions in our society. It will take time to heal those divisions, and working with young people is critical to foster understanding and inclusion. One group of youngsters in desperate need of understanding and inclusion are the refugees recently arrived, and still arriving, from Calais. If they could be included in NCS programmes when most appropriate for them, but as a priority, it would be fantastic for them but also for their fellow participants. I hope that the Minister would agree that we ask NCS to take this forward. I firmly believe that NCS should not be seen or act in isolation. It should be part of the journey mentioned by the Minister—and here I declare an interest as a member of the advisory council of Step up to Serve, and a trustee of City Year. Individuals and society benefit most when a young person’s journey is coherent and cohesive with social actions of many kinds, from primary school through to their 20s, from Step up to Serve, which promotes social action from the age of 10, to City Year and Volunteering Matters, which provide full-time volunteering opportunities for young adults.

NCS provision, while invaluable, must not be at the expense of other interventions and experiences of social action. What can and will be done to ensure that the grant funding for NCS will not dramatically change the ecosystem of youth social action, which includes so many excellent organisations? It is also extremely important that the funding committed to run NCS should not be at the expense of local services for young people. All noble Lords will be aware that councils have had to make difficult decisions to protect statutory services that support the most vulnerable children and young people, and local spending on youth services has fallen by an estimated £370 million since April 2010. It is essential that councils, which know the needs of their communities, should also be able to provide services, and I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that this will be the case.

The Minister, the sector and the NCS Trust have all said that the investment in NCS should help the wider youth social action journey, pre- and post-NCS. Will the noble Lord confirm that this is still the Government’s intent? If so, will they consider an amendment to both the draft Bill and the charter to establish a further objective of the NCS Trust along the lines of supporting, and not undermining, existing provision that contributes to a coherent youth social action journey? This would ensure that NCS governance and decision-making truly understood how its resources and presence supported the wider journey, ultimately making it more likely that the substantial public investment in the trust went further in supporting young people and, importantly, gave confidence to the wider sector. It would also give permission for NCS to promote other opportunities more substantially and even invest in them.

As has been said, NCS represents a very large investment of public money. It is welcome that the Bill establishes scrutiny measures around value for money, but does the Minister agree that questions about value for money can be answered only in the context of other youth provision that contributes to the stated outcomes of NCS, and that this should be included in the welcome annual report to Parliament? Related to this, we should table amendments on reporting to ensure, for example, that NCS has to state how many young people have begun their journey with other social action organisations and how many people have gone on to further social action or volunteering opportunities. We would then have a clearer view of the journey and could act if necessary.

I am glad that the Bill states that the NCS must report on the quality of the programmes provided or arranged by the trust, but it gives no indication as to how quality should be judged. I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister on whether there will there be specific criteria or a peer-led assessment. The continued success of NCS will depend to a large extent on evidence of the change that it is bringing about in society—in the improvement that it makes to the lives of our young people. My noble friend mentioned outcomes and their measurement. I suggest that the Government should commission a longitudinal impact study on the life outcomes of graduates so that in future we will have hard evidence of its success.

The charter will, as intended, help the NCS Trust demonstrate its independence from government and party politics, although we should be under no illusion about the ease with which a charter can be amended by a Government working through the Privy Council with no proper scrutiny. In parenthesis, I very much regret that there was no consultation with the sector on the contents of the charter. I welcome the fact that both the Bill and the charter provide flexibility for the trust in delivering its objectives. As many in the sector know, my own view is that young people should be required to give back more in terms of volunteering after they have graduated and following the considerable investment by society. This is not just a matter for NCS; it is a matter for wider society, which should provide quality volunteering opportunities and leadership. There are so many tasks to be fulfilled which could improve and enhance our communities and, while there are many excellent voluntary organisations, sometimes the leadership is lacking—perhaps understandably, given our busy lives and daily treadmills. I hope, however, that, working in partnership with councils and local voluntary organisations, NCS will be able to ensure that there is a commitment to local volunteering that goes way beyond the short-term confines of the scheme.

Finally, I turn to City Year, our campaign for a legal status for full-time volunteers in the UK, and the opportunity wasted by not including this, or even the concept of a year of service, in the Bill before us. NCS is an important part of a mosaic of volunteering opportunities and it cannot thrive in a vacuum: it must be part of the journey. It is vital, more than ever, to give the next generation the chance to play their part in shaping our country, and themselves, through service to others and NCS must not be the end of those opportunities to serve. That is exactly what City Year does. It recruits young people to give a year of service, working in schools in high-poverty communities to bridge the gap between what pupils actually need and what their schools are designed and resourced to provide. It changes the lives of students in the schools and it changes the lives of the young people who serve. It transforms lives and it also changes the outcomes of schools in the most disadvantaged areas. It is a win-win-win situation and we want to expand. Society needs us to expand for social and economic reasons, but there is a problem—a barrier.

While City Year UK and Volunteering Matters are set up to provide full-time volunteering opportunities, and other charities such as the excellent Scout Association, vinspired and Mayday Trust use full-time volunteers as part of their wider work, the volunteers have no legal status.

This means that full-time volunteers are defined as NEETs—not in education, employment or training. Not only does this make the young people feel they are part of the problem when they should be—and are—part of the solution, it means that they are not entitled to national insurance contributions, which would protect their pension contributions. Full-time volunteers can be given expenses by their charity, but charities are forbidden from paying expenses if the volunteer is ill. Volunteers are also forbidden from receiving personal development training or help from the charity they serve when they look for jobs at the end of their programme.

This is clearly a crazy situation. In America, France and Germany full-time volunteering—referred to as “service”—has a legal status, and engages not hundreds but hundreds of thousands of young people every year. Those Governments provide awards, such as discounts on university fees, for participants, who also get cards that give them the discounts for trains and cinemas that students enjoy. Their experience comes with a respected government-endorsed brand, and they are sought after by employers keen to hire young people with maturity and real-world experience.

I am passionate about a year of service, and the need for recognition by the Government in terms of a legal status grows by the day. City Year UK currently works in education, but there is so much more we could do in health and social care, in environmental protection and in heritage. As the evidence from the wonderful AmeriCorps programmes demonstrates, young people undertaking a year of service do not take the places of full or part-time employees. Trade unions, public services and business all recognise that they provide added value. That is exactly what we need in this country. We have a crisis in social services, some of it due to isolation and loneliness; when we suffer an environmental crisis, such as a flood, there are seldom enough people to provide immediate help and support for citizens and the emergency services. So much more could and should be done, in addition to the extraordinary work by City Year in schools.

There are rumours that the Government are going to set up a commission to look at the concept of a year of service and the introduction of a legal status. I ask the Minister: will this become a reality, and if so when? Why was it not included in this important but rather sparse Bill? With those questions I will finish, reiterating my strong support for NCS and this Bill. I have no doubt that the Minister is in listening mode, and I hope that in Committee the Government will both accept amendments and come forward with their own amendments to address some of the issues raised today.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat 4:07 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, I join in the thanks to the Minister for introducing this short but important Bill. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory council of NCVO. I am also a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I have spent most of the past 30 years in various forms of public service, and in different ways, most of the people I know are also involved: they are active in their communities and they volunteer. I think that we would all agree that our lives are enriched by that experience. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is right to say that the benefits of public service work both ways. So if the creation of NCS opens that sort of opportunity for more of our young people, that is, of course, to be heartily welcomed.

However, this large project, serving some 300,000 young people, will come at a cost of £1 billion in the forthcoming five years. That is not a reason not to do it, but it is a reason why we should look very carefully at all aspects of the scheme—starting, of course, with the legislation that establishes it. Having set budgets in local authorities for some years, I am always acutely aware that expenditure on one thing means that you do not have that money to spend on something else, so it is simply not good enough to say we should do something because it is a good thing to do; the question is whether it is the best thing we can do. In its briefing, the LGA points out that this investment is being made at a time when most local authorities have spent the past few years cutting services under their youth budgets because of cuts in their own financial settlements, and we have heard from my noble friend Lady Barker about the quite stringent conditions under which many charities are operating.

It is interesting that there has been quite a sea change in the past few years in that more young people are volunteering. I have seen reports that there has been a 52% rise in youth volunteering. To some extent, social media and on-line tools make certain sorts of voluntary engagement easier than they have ever been. For that reason, it is important for this scheme to have a relentless focus on those who are hard to reach or disadvantaged through poverty, disability, dysfunctional family lives and so on because they are the ones who potentially have the most to gain. For people with serious disadvantage, a cost of £50 is a big hurdle, so I was pleased to hear the Minister comment on ways of making that affordable. That should be one of the key indicators when Parliament carries out its scrutiny.

The National Deaf Children’s Society raised very important points about the cost of delivering the programme to young people with particular needs, such as British sign language interpreters or speech-to-text reporting, It is currently left to NCS providers to meet the cost of supporting disabled young people, and they are concerned that this funding will not be forthcoming. I am sure that similar issues would arise with visually impaired young people and those with other disabilities. I have a close family member dealing with ME. I hope that there will be enough flexibility in the scheme to manage those sorts of difficult intermittent conditions.

It is very important that we focus on how this scheme is to be promoted within hard-to-reach groups. I am a bit concerned about the emphasis being put on mailings from HMRC to promote it as that seems rather dependent on parents receiving mailings and then acting on them. In dysfunctional families, this may very well not happen, and those who need it most may be passed by.

I was also very taken with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that young people do not like government schemes. If they do not like government schemes generally, something coming from HMRC might be particularly problematic for them. I know that there are wonderful people in HMRC—indeed, I am married to someone who works for HMRC—but there is a question about the tone of that very first engagement coming from HMRC. It also seems odd that in a scheme designed to transition young people into adulthood, the first engagement is through their parents. I am not entirely sure that we have got that right. I know that local authorities have fought very shy of becoming too closely involved with this, but they certainly need to be involved in a whole range of ways. I also wonder whether there is an opportunity to work with local authorities on voter registration in the context of this scheme because it seems to me that a great part of becoming a citizen later in life is to vote when you have the opportunity.

To a large extent the success of this scheme will depend on the providers, so I have been interested to hear from a whole range of people who have been involved so far as well as from NCVO and other parties. While there are some areas of disagreement, they are not significant and there is widespread consensus on a number of things. The first is that the scheme must sit firmly within the context of the whole of a young person’s life from the age of five to 25 and not be about just this brief period. Secondly, we need to ensure that the whole experience is of high quality and, as Justin Davis Smith, formerly of NCVO, put it, that the programme becomes the,

“must-do choice for young people”.

I think that is right.

Thirdly, the programme needs to sit within the wider volunteering system and make effective use of the knowledge and expertise of specialist charities, social enterprises and providers, especially in their localities. The scale of this programme could mean that smaller providers get frozen out of the commissioning process, as is often the case. The social action part of the programme should be not just a one-off but the start of a long-term involvement with volunteering and social action. However, finding meaningful voluntary activity is not always easy. Voluntary organisations themselves need more resources to manage an influx of volunteers; without them young people either cannot participate or will receive a poorer quality experience as volunteers. Fourthly, partner organisations need to be effectively and adequately resourced. One of the existing providers, The Challenge, explained how it provides personal coaches for young people who have been involved with the criminal justice system or who have been in care. This is almost certainly effective, but, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, it is very expensive.

The Bill also makes a number of provisions to make the NCS Trust accountable to Parliament and the public, which is welcome. We have to think acknowledge and, perhaps in later stages of the Bill, think about how we manage the tension between the sort of independence which the noble Lord, Lord Maude, talked about and the need to manage a very large sum of taxpayers’ money. I got slightly nervous at the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, about the morass of public appointments. As boring as process sometimes might be, it usually ensures that you get a solid outcome in which people can have trust. With Kids Company we saw what happens when you have exuberant, charismatic leadership. It does not necessarily work well. We need to learn those lessons.

Conventional reporting—the annual report, the accounts and so on—can be of limited use. Charities now quite rightly focus on the impact they have, and NCS reporting should be exactly the same. Some of it will be qualitative, drawn on the experience of participants, but given this amount of public money, I expect to see a lot of data about the numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, those who complete the programme rather just start it and those with disabilities. Over time, I expect some outcomes with regard to those who remain involved with voluntary service and to whether there have been impacts on employment, reductions in crime and so on, both on a personal level and in aggregate.

It is no longer good enough for something to mean well; we have to get it right. I cannot put it better than the youth social action charity City Year UK. In its briefing it said that it is vital, now more than ever, to give the next generation the chance to play their part in shaping our country and themselves through service to others and that NCS at 16 should be the beginning and not the end of those opportunities to serve.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott Deputy Chairman of Committees 4:16 pm, 25th October 2016

My Lords, I draw your attention to my entry in the register of interests, and I add my apologies to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, because we need to get to our Select Committee. We have permission to leave—it is all perfectly legitimate.

I give the Bill my full support and, like the Bill, I will be short but focused in my remarks. The opportunity for young people to participate in activities which help them with their personal skills development and give opportunities to engage in teams to deliver positive community projects can only be for their and our good. It is also an opportunity for communities to see first-hand the abilities and contribution that young people can make. So often, communities have a poor perception of young people, and young people certainly have a poor perception of the communities in which they live. Sometimes these thoughts are justified on both fronts. NCS also gives young people from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities the opportunity to work together for the common good, which we sometimes lack in our society.

While I have no personal experience of the NCS programme, I have real-life experience of the way in which people are brought together by working on such projects. In his introduction, the Minister referred to organisations which had benefited from the activity of NCS, but let me talk about some of the benefits to young people from working on such projects.

One was in Glasgow, where young people who one might say were the most disadvantaged were challenged to work with a local church to paint the railings that surrounded the church and its land. It is fair to say that that had not been done for a number of years if not a decade, so it was no small feat. To start with, the church and community members were pretty suspicious and on edge, but as time went on they could see the difference that the young people were making to the church and they started to engage with them. They started to talk to them and thank them for what they were doing, and before long those wonderful members of the community who could cook were baking things for them, bringing them refreshments and talking to them. The young people could not believe their luck. The most important thing was that members of the community started to understand the personal circumstances of these young people and could appreciate why some of them had behaved in certain ways in the past. One young lad of 16 was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. When he started to share that fact with some of the people in the community whom he had run ragged, their attitude started to mellow somewhat. If that is the type of change that NCS produces, it will be doing a great thing.

That leads me to another important point, which has already been mentioned. NCS must put all its efforts into those who are most socially excluded and who need every ounce of support in taking their rightful place in society. I have been grateful to receive a number of briefings on the Bill. One is from The Challenge, which is delivering NCS. It says that for a programme to have integration at its heart, it must include the hardest-to-reach young people. I agree with its recommendation that special attention should be paid to attracting the hardest-to-reach young people, and perhaps the Minister can give us an assurance that that will be the focus of the programme.

Building on that, I can see how much it means to young people to have the opportunity to take part in NCS, but what do they do when this short programme has finished? How will all their aspirations and hopes be taken forward, and what will be next for them? Will the programme be in danger of becoming a distant memory? It is a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York:

“He marched them up to the top of the hill,

… when they were up, they were up,

And when they were down, they were down”.

I do not know about your Lordships, but when you go on school trips with your contemporaries, you do things and feel absolutely wonderful, but then you have to go home and there is nothing there. I hope that this programme will be the start of a journey and that the young people who have coaches and mentoring on this short programme will continue to have them. I have said this before and I will say it again: if it were down to me, I would give every young person of 16 a coach until they reach the age of 18 or 19 to make sure that they maximise all the opportunities and reach a good destination on their journey. The point I am trying to make here is best captured in the briefing that I received from the NCVO. It says that NCS should be an entry point—a staging-post on a longer journey of social action and volunteering. It says that this should be the start and not the finish. I understand that some longer-term projects have been piloted and I would be interested to know from the Minister how these have gone.

I am not a great lover of bureaucracy in any sense, but I believe that it is in everybody’s interests that NCS keeps good, solid destination data, to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred. It should be a question not of saying, “I’m going to measure this because X number of people have been through it”, but of saying, “X number of people have been through it and this is where they are now”. Those who are doing well will need all the encouragement they can get, and those who need extra nudging will need somebody there to help them. So I believe that proper data collection and analysis of these young people is of paramount importance. Again, perhaps the Minister can confirm that this will be done. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred to the quality of outcomes, not the volume of inputs, and that is absolutely critical.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for raising the points that she did—she was very brave. I know that it is very easy to say what is good, but I think it is right that we understand how the sector will feel about a large sum of money. However, I am certain we will ensure that the Bill will mean that young people get the best possible experiences. I hope that any young person embarking on NCS will see it as a first step on an exciting journey. I hope that we will have the route well planned and well resourced, and that the quality of support will be of the highest standard.

I can sense noble Lords’ interest in the next part of our proceedings on airport expansion. It is palpable, and I do not wish to stop them hearing about that. I will just say that these young people are just as important as how and where airport expansion takes place. Every time noble Lords hear the word “Heathrow”, which I am sure will be often, I ask them to think about the young people to whom this Bill relates.