Notification of financial difficulties and criminal conduct

National Citizen Service Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 24th January 2017.

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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

I am delighted to be a Minister who is making stunning progress; I hope that carries on for a long time to come. Clause 7 would require the trust to notify the Government promptly if any NCS provider falls into serious financial difficulty, or is in breach of contract with serious consequences for the trust. The Government must also be notified if a member of staff of the trust or an NCS provider commits fraud or is in breach of their employment contract with serious consequences for the trust, or is the subject of a police investigation in which the allegation of criminal conduct could have serious consequences for the trust.

The trust is the central commissioning body for NCS. It currently contracts directly with nine providers that cover 19 defined regions. Those organisations then contract and work with hundreds of local providers. The trust sits in the middle of a huge operation, and the Government need to know of serious issues that could have either financial or reputational consequences for NCS.

The clause aims to be proportionate. If one of the trust’s key providers breached its contract with serious consequences for the trust, the Government would need to be informed. It may be that the negotiations between the two organisations affect the trust’s ability to carry out its primary functions. The earlier the Government are informed, the better we are able to take contingency action. However, the NCS Trust also has relationships with many organisations and suppliers that are not NCS providers. It would not be necessary for the Government to know if, for example, one of the smaller suppliers went into administration. That would not have a direct or seriously negative effect on NCS.

In the case of criminal conduct, Government action may not be direct. Where an individual has committed a crime, it is always the police that should be informed, but the Government should be informed if an allegation against a person or group of people could impact directly on the NCS programme. The trust must be legally responsible for alerting the Government and working collaboratively with the Government to resolve matters as they arise.

The NCS Trust has excellent relationships with its providers. It has grown NCS at pace while ensuring that it is a quality, carefully organised programme that works well across England. The Bill is designed to put the trust on a secure, stable footing, to ensure that it can work efficiently, effectively and transparently. Clause 7 is a necessary part of the Bill.

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

This is a very important clause, and it is something the Government must have absolute regard to in working with NCS. I briefly suggest to the Minister that this is another area in which user insight—the views and experiences of young people who are participating—could be extremely helpful in identifying problems before they grow into crises, as long as there is a mechanism for those experiences to be aired. One of the reasons that councils, including the one that I was leading, decommissioned, decommissioned Kids Company some 10 years before the Government recognised that there were problems, is that they were closer to their service users and were hearing about those problems on the ground. I would hope, and want, to see the NCS benefiting from the insight of young people, who will spot problems as soon as they start to happen. If issues can be ratcheted straight up to the top of the organisation, that can trigger appropriate remedial action before they grow into something far worse.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 10:45 am, 24th January 2017

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the point about feedback, but the NCS Trust has strong feedback mechanisms—a text feedback for people on courses, and the regional boards and so forth that we have discussed under previous clauses. There are strong mechanisms in place, and I know that NCS listens carefully to the young people in its care for the relevant periods of time and beyond. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter again.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8