Annual report etc

National Citizen Service Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) 10:00 am, 24th January 2017

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 6, page 3, line 9, at end insert—

“(i) the measures taken to encourage scheme participants to play a role in governance and the extent to which this leads to direct representation within the formal governance arrangements of the NCS Trust,

(j) the extent to which participation in the programmes has led to long-term volunteering by NCS graduates.”

This amendment encourages participants of the scheme to take part in the continued governance of the Trust. It also ensures the report includes information on the longer term volunteering by NCS graduates.

I am delighted to give the Minister a moment to catch his breath and sort his notes out. I hope that he will also listen to a further attempt by my party to strengthen and improve aspects of the Bill. The amendment seeks to do two things: first, to strengthen the voice of participants within the governance of NCS so that it can better reflect, now and in future, the aspirations, ambitions and experiences of young people right the way through the organisation; and secondly, to strengthen the Government’s approach to long-term volunteering. It makes little sense to equip young people to play a more active role in society if we do not fully recognise and support their longer term activities in the way NCS and all of us involved in it hope it will do. The amendment, which is a probing amendment at this stage, seeks to strengthen those two aspects. We look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and then we will see how we take it from there.

On Second Reading, I and many of my colleagues made the point that, since the Prime Minster has flagged up this measure as a key element of her shared society, a shared society cannot simply be imposed. It requires power itself to be shared more widely if we want to build a truly shared society. One of the failings of many provider organisations in state and public sectors is that they fail to give their own users a voice. They become very focused on the interest and experience of the people working in the provision of a particular service, and over time they can detach themselves from the lived experiences of the people who are intended to benefit from those services.

In the private sector, customers can choose to go elsewhere to secure the things they want and businesses will go bust. When an organisation is funded by the state, without mechanisms to keep linking the service back to the people using it, it can grow remote from what is being offered, and the public money that is put in can become less efficiently used than might otherwise be the case. We seek to anchor NCS in the needs of its users—young people—into the future. That is how it will meet its participation targets, which the NAO has warned it might otherwise miss. It is important that young people have a real voice in what NCS does and how it does it.

When the Minister responded to similar comments I made on Second Reading, he pointed to the national youth board, which is an extremely important part of NCS’s infrastructure, and important for bringing feedback from across the country back to the trust as it deliberates and makes decisions on where it goes in future. We would encourage the trust to go further. If we believe, as I do, that a shared society requires a share in power, consultation is often not enough. Consultation with users is not enough because the people with the power doing the consulting can choose not to listen to what they hear, so the consultation can prove to be fake. They can stop listening to the users if there is not a strong enough mechanism to connect them back to the young people who will be using the organisation.

A far better way is to seek ways to equalise power between the provider interest and users within any organisation, including this one. We want to have a greater user voice for young people at the top of the trust, which is an approach that needs to be expanded across public services more widely. Perhaps that is something the Prime Minister and the Government will look at as they shape the shared society.

There are other good examples in youth services. Step Up To Serve is another organisation supported by the Government. I have had the privilege of taking part in a board meeting of that organisation and seeing how it works. It has cross-party support. Like NCS, it is Government-backed, but it has five young trustees on its full board. They are there, as the Step Up To Serve websites states, to

“use the skills and knowledge gained from their own journey to influence the campaign and represent the views of young people.”

I believe that NCS would benefit from exactly the same approach as Step Up To Serve.

When I was leader of a council just across the river, I helped to set up the Young Lambeth Cooperative, which became, I believe, one of the biggest community youth trusts in the country.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that four positions on the NCS board should be reserved for young members? Is that the case he is making now?

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) 10:15 am, 24th January 2017

I did not want to be prescriptive at this stage; I was merely putting down the marker that users need direct representation on the board, so that the organisation is anchored in the needs and interests of the people it exists to serve. We can have conversations, but they should not just be between politicians; we should be involving the organisation and its users in taking decisions about its governance as we move forward.

When I was involved in setting up the Young Lambeth Cooperative, which became, I believe, one of the largest community youth trusts in the country, the set-up was intended to support neighbourhoods experiencing severe problems with violent youth crime. That meant young people who were picking up knives, picking up guns and dealing in drugs. People on some estates in that community knew young people by name who had been killed as the result of very high levels of violent youth activity in particular neighbourhoods.

The council was spending hundreds of thousands of pounds—if not more—every year trying to solve a problem, but it was getting worse because the council was not listening enough to the views of the people living with the problem and whose young people were getting involved, as well as to those young people themselves. Very often, those people have a far better understanding of what is going wrong in their community, and in the access they have to opportunity, which then causes these problems to grow out of control, as they sometimes do.

The organisation was set up in a way that gave those communities a significant role in the organisation’s governance. That came about through elections to an assembly that owned the trust, so making sure young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds had a real say, while 50% of the board was comprised of young people from affected neighbourhoods. This meant they could directly bring to bear their experience of what was affecting them and their peers, pulling them into lifestyles they did not want to be taken into. Without that experience at the heart of the organisation’s decision making, it would not have had the credibility or the understanding to make the difference it could make in using the public money it had access to, as well as other sources of funding.

It made a difference in that case and there are many other examples up and down the country where embedding the voice of the user by giving them real power in an organisation can dramatically improve the outcome. Again, I do not wish to be prescriptive about this, but I hope the Minister will consider looking at similar models that ensure the voice of young people can be heard at the top of the organisation, not on licence from those who happen to sit on the board but as a right in the rooms where decisions are being taken.

My second point relates to volunteering. On Second Reading, I was taken by the comments of Members on both sides who pointed to the importance of the volunteering skills and experience that young people develop and how that develops—we already see it—into a desire to take part in volunteering and community activism in their adult lives as well. That will be a hugely important legacy of NCS if it achieves the potential it undoubtedly has.

NCS is well evaluated, but we are still waiting for the 2015 evaluation report. The Bill aims to strengthen accountability, but the measures miss the opportunities available to young people after they leave the programme. The purpose of amendment 6 is to ask the trust to make clear whether NCS experience has led to long-term volunteering. If we get it right, one of the organisation’s key measures of success has to be the legacy it will leave in every community where young people have the opportunity to participate.

Graduates of the scheme overwhelmingly say they want more opportunities to volunteer. Nine out of 10 graduates say they want to go back and help develop NCS or act as mentors. That they want to spread that opportunity to other young people because it was so beneficial to them is incredibly welcome. NCS’s website includes a list of other organisations they can sign up to, but we believe the country would benefit from a more rigorous approach to embedding volunteering for young people, and from recognising the importance of the time that they spend volunteering as a benefit, not just for them, but for society as a whole. We believe that requires a proper legal framework for young people to be able to take the next step and take part in longer periods of volunteering. At the moment, there is no legal status that recognises full-time volunteers. In some cases, that can act as a barrier that deters young people and others from taking part in volunteering, something that presumably, from the way NCS has been set up, we are seeking to encourage.

In other countries, such as the United States, France and Germany, full-time volunteering is recognised by the state as a service and has a legal status that helps to encourage hundreds of thousands of young people to take part. It is good for them as they learn new skills and it is good for society that benefits from their energy, creativity and activity for the common good. This point matters because, if a young person in the UK takes a year of service—a year off to participate in volunteering—they will be defined as a NEET: not in education, employment or training. They do not qualify for national insurance contributions; they cannot be paid expenses if they are ill, and they cannot receive proper training from their charity. We need to address that problem if we as a society are going to benefit as we should from young people who have been equipped and supported to volunteer to the benefit of the rest of us.

Last month, the Government announced the full-time social action review. We would welcome an update from the Minister on how that is going and whether he is considering the option of legal status for volunteers, because without it we are not enabling young people to benefit in the way that they should from the tremendous opportunities they will gain in the National Citizen Service.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Member for Croydon North for his comments, and particularly for the spirit in which he has addressed the amendment. There is an enormous amount in the Bill on which we agree. The amendment would add two additional reporting requirements to the NCS Trust, and I will cover each in turn. The first relates to the involvement of young people in governance.

The NCS Trust recognises that a programme for young people needs the input of young people in its design, governance and delivery. As the hon. Gentleman has noted, the NCS Trust has a national youth board that represents the views of 19 regional youth boards. A youth board representative often attends the main board meetings of the NCS Trust. The trust also has a group of 120 NCS leaders who act as ambassadors; this group provides another sounding board for the organisation. We want to keep the reporting requirements in the Bill short and focused on the overall aims of the NCS Trust. Clause 6 requires the trust to report on the number of participants, which links to its functions to promote NCS and, critically, on the quality of the programme.

When I wrote to the trust before Christmas about the involvement of young people among other things, the trust affirmed that, and I quote, “young people are at the centre of everything that we do”. The trust will need to continue to understand young people’s perspectives to make the programme appealing, and also to make it high quality. It will not be possible to attract young people to NCS, or to make it a high-quality experience, without knowing what young people actually want. To achieve the growth and the quality seen so far, the NCS Trust has had to use its youth board extensively, its young leaders and also real-time text feedback from participants to inform its strategy, critique its marketing campaigns and support programme delivery. In the future, when the trust reports on how it has achieved quality, we would expect it to cover how it has used young people to ensure that the experience is of a high quality for them.

The royal charter requires that board members are selected by fair and open competition. The board will need a mixture of skills, including an understanding of young people’s perspectives, and we would encourage young people to apply when the time comes.

The application process will be open and transparent, so we do not think it is necessary to ask the trust to report on how it has formed its board. I do hope that young people take the message that we want them to be involved and to apply. We will have further conversations with the trust about that.

In summary, I agree it is important that the trust involves young people in all aspects of its business, including governance, but we can drive this through the existing high-level requirements already set out in the Bill.

On the second part of the amendment, we agree that NCS should encourage young people to go on to do more volunteering. There is no question about that, and there is evidence that that is already happening; the NCS Trust estimates that NCS graduates give back on average an additional six hours of volunteering every month.

Long-term volunteering is only one possible positive outcome of NCS. NCS graduates might go straight into employment, an apprenticeship, or further or higher education. We would not want to isolate long-term volunteering as the only way forward from NCS. I am sure that is not what the hon. Member for Croydon North was implying.

Reporting on that matter would also present practical difficulties for the trust. NCS might inspire a love of volunteering in participants but, owing to other commitments, they might not volunteer again for several years. We cannot expect the trust to track participants for an unlimited time as part of a statutory duty. [Interruption.] I think I will come to the point that the hon. Member for Redcar is going to raise but I will let her raise it anyway.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

I appreciate the Minister giving way, following a very small flick of my eyebrow; that was very perceptive of him. Will he take the opportunity to say a bit more about how NCS monitors results and what longitudinal studies it makes of the wider outcomes for those who participate, whether in volunteering or getting into work? We have all been very positive about the programme but it would be helpful to know what longitudinal studies the Government have to monitor success.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The long-term impact was also raised by the NAO in its report. No current impact studies are underway but there are annual studies of NSC’s impact. The NCS Trust is looking at how to set up the right form of longitudinal study to try to capture this work but has yet to come to any firm conclusions.

The issue about a long-term study is that this is still a relatively young scheme. It has been going since 2011 but is ramping up quickly and the numbers are becoming very significant. The matter is being looked at and is clearly something that we need to get right. It is something that the NAO highlighted and we recognise as important and for that reason we will take it forward.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

No, no, no. I think this is a terrific scheme and I am deeply interested. Does the Minister agree that it is important to know how much volunteering students do later because, unless one has had experience of volunteering, one might not be inclined to volunteer later in one’s life?

I have talked to young children about this, including one of my daughters, and she gave the example of joining a choir. She joined a choir at school and then a community choir in London, which brings many benefits all round. That is not exactly what we do with NCS but she would not have done it if she had not had that previous experience. That is my point.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 10:30 am, 24th January 2017

My hon. Friend makes a valuable observation. We hope that giving young people the opportunity to volunteer in the first place will lead to other opportunities and engagement with volunteering. I will explain the Government’s strategy to try to create a lifetime of volunteering among as many members of the population as we can. I promise that I will come to that in a minute or two.

We believe that NCS and the #iwill campaign could help to start a lifetime volunteering habit that runs through people’s working lives and into older age. It is a priority for me and the Office for Civil Society to make that ambition a reality. Last year, we announced a £40 million investment in the #iwill fund to encourage youth social action, and as the hon. Member for Croydon North mentioned, we are undertaking a review of young people’s full-time social action. My officials are working on further plans to encourage volunteering among older people. The plan is to ensure that NCS is not a one-off opportunity but that people have opportunities to volunteer at different points in their lives, for which there is clearly an appetite.

I agree that it is essential that we assess, so far as we can, the long-term impact of NCS, including how far it encourages a long-term appetite for volunteering. As I have said, we are currently exploring the best methodology for doing that.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South

May I ask the Minister the question that Charities Aid Foundation asked about young trustees between the ages of 18 and 24? I would have thought that it was relatively easy to find out who those young trustees are and match them with the names of people who have participated in the National Citizen Service. Is it possible to monitor that at all?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am sure that it is possible to monitor that sort of thing, but I would not put that additional reporting requirement in the Bill. We can discuss that outside this forum.

The Bill is not the place to fix an approach. For the meantime, the Government are committed to publishing an independent evaluation of NCS every year, as we have since 2013. In addition, the NAO can carry out value-for-money studies. Owing to the complexity of evaluating long-term impact, we prefer to keep using those independent expert evaluations rather than placing a broad statutory requirement on the trust.

I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Croydon North that young people’s involvement is essential to NCS and it should encourage long-term volunteering, but it is my view that the reporting requirement in clause 6 strikes the right balance between being thorough on the one hand and being achievable and not overly bureaucratic on the other. The Government therefore will not support the amendment. I hope that, given my reassurance, the hon. Gentleman feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society)

I thank the Minister for his comments. It is clear from what he has said that our intentions are very similar, but I am not yet persuaded that the Government’s intended approach will deliver the outcomes that they say they want. However, this Committee is not the place to pursue that. We need to have further conversations, in particular with the trust itself and some of the participants, and that can better be done between now and Third Reading. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Clause 6 requires the NCS Trust to give the Secretary of State an annual report setting out its performance of its functions each year. The purpose of the clause, as with clauses 4 and 5, is to ensure that proper parliamentary accountability is in place. The report must cover, among other things, the extent to which the proposed strategic priorities and main activities of the NCS Trust for the year have been met and carried out. Those requirements will ensure that the report provides a rigorous means of assessing the success of the annual business plan.

The clause specifies several other areas that the report must address. Subsection (2)(c) requires the report to address the quality of programmes. The quality of young people’s experience is essential to the success of NCS. Paragraph (d) requires the report to cover the number of participants during the year. For it to be an effective rite of passage, NCS needs to reach as many young people as possible. The charter gives the NCS Trust a function to promote the programme, and the report would provide the means of assessing its success in this area. Linked to that, paragraph (e) requires the trust to report, in particular, on the number of disabled participants. We want people from all backgrounds to benefit from NCS, but young people with disabilities may need physical adjustments or additional funding and the report can provide a means of assessing whether the trust is successful in making the programme accessible.

Paragraph (f) requires the report to cover the extent to which participants from different backgrounds have worked together. Social integration is at the heart of NCS. A key strength of the programme is its ability to mix people from different backgrounds and change their perceptions of one another, and there is evidence to prove that that is the case.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

I appreciate the Minister’s explanation. Paragraph (f) is a really important and significant point. Could he say a bit about how different backgrounds are being monitored and what the criteria are for that?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

An annual study reports on these things, and the studies show that in reaching black and minority ethnic communities and those on free school meals, the NCS Trust is doing extremely well in capturing more of those people on to the scheme than the national average. There is supportable evidence to show that it is doing well. We want to continue to monitor it and make sure that it continues to do well. I note the earlier comments from the hon. Member for Croydon North that the numbers have gone down, even though they are still above the national average, on free school meals. The trust will be very conscious of that and we will look at that.

Paragraph (g) requires the report to cover the number of hours that have been spent volunteering on community projects as a result of participating in NCS programmes. NCS is designed to benefit the wider community, not just the young people who are participating, so this is a key indicator of success. Parliament will be able to see, on a year-to-year basis, how the trust is performing in this area and how it has achieved meaningful social mixing across the country.

Finally, paragraph (h) requires the trust to report on the extent to which it has obtained value for money. We want a quality programme that is accessible to all, but we also want to ensure that NCS provides value for money for the taxpayer. Even though the NAO will be able to conduct external value-for-money studies, Parliament should be able to see what the trust has done in its own words. It is vital to the trust’s independence that it is able to report on its own work.

Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath

Just two quick points—whenever an organisation has a royal charter attached to it, it is pretty standard for part of the Bill to include accountability by a Select Committee. I appreciate the Minister’s comments on proper accountability before Parliament, but could he expand on which Select Committee this would come under? Would it be the Public Accounts Committee or could it be another Committee?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

There are essentially two Select Committees that could look at it. Obviously there is the Select Committee examining the work of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which the Office for Civil Society now falls under since its move from the Cabinet Office. We also have the ability to hold it accountable through the Public Accounts Committee; the PAC can look at all the details in the normal way.

Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath

Would the Minister therefore look at introducing a clause in the Bill to ensure that that is put into the legislation?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We can consider that, but my instinctive reaction is that it would not be necessary because, under the normal process, both the PAC and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport can hold the NCS Trust and us accountable for actions on anything to do with this Bill. I do not think that is necessary, but I am prepared to discuss it with my hon. Friend before Report.

The reduction of the cost per participant is one of the NCS Trust’s key performance indicators. Over the coming years, we will work with the trust continually to improve value for money and drive down the cost per participant by redesigning the contractual agreements, leveraging the scale of the NCS network and delivering cross-system benefits such as centralised procurement and co-ordinated logistics. The annual report will provide a means of reporting on that activity. For Parliament to hold the trust to account, it must have detailed information on the trust’s actions, the reasons for taking such actions, and the outcomes identified by the trust. To reassure my hon. Friend, Parliament can test those conclusions if required.

Clause 6 gives the Secretary of State the power to comment on the annual report and to provide information on how Government Departments have worked to support the trust and the NCS programme. The Government must play their part in continuing to support NCS, which has the potential to support a broad range of Government priorities, such as the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. That information will provide a wider view on how the Government are maximising the benefits of .

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society)

I am delighted that the Minister mentioned accessibility and the importance of focusing on participation by young people with disabilities. I echo those comments. Subject to the caveats in the amendments that we have tabled, we support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

While the Minister gathers himself, I say to the Committee that you are making stunning progress on the Bill. I do not know if we will have to sit this afternoon, let alone on Thursday.

Clause 7