Clause 8 allows the trust to charge a fee for participation in the NCS programme. That would maintain existing practice. The NCS Trust charges a maximum of £50 for a place on the programme. Any young person who cannot afford that pays either nothing at all or a subsidised amount. The value of a place on NCS is significantly more, and is covered by Government and taxpayer funding.
Fifty pounds for such a packed and challenging set of activities, many of which are done away from home, is excellent value for money for young people and their parents or carers. Fees pay a small part in meeting the costs of NCS, but they also incentivise attendance. If a young person signs up to NCS during a school assembly their participation is not guaranteed; but if they, or their parents or guardians, invest financially they are more likely to participate if they are able. Practically, fees help NCS providers to plan ahead and deliver the programme.
Clause 8 does not specify the amount that the trust can charge. That is to prevent the Bill becoming out of date—£50 will in future be likely to mean something different from what it means today—and to allow reasonable flexibility. None the less, the royal charter requires the trust to ensure that there is
“equality of access to the programmes by participants regardless of their background or circumstances”.
The trust therefore cannot act as a barrier to attendance. Clause 8 is necessary to support effective programme delivery; but it should be seen in the context of the trust’s functions, as set out in the royal charter.
In general terms, we support the clause. It can be helpful for young participants to have to make a relatively small financial contribution, because that underscores the perceived value of what they are about to take part in. However, no one would want the introduction of a fee that would deter any young person—particularly those from poorer backgrounds—from taking part. The Minister made it clear that he shares that intention, but I shall press him slightly further. What analysis will be conducted to ensure that no young people are being deterred from taking part by the introduction of the fee?
I do not want to get involved in the day-to-day operational issues of the NCS Trust. It has a target of trying to reach all young people who might want to go on the course, in accordance with our manifesto commitment. It has an imperative to do that, and to make sure that young people are not deterred. Price could be a deterrent if it were to rise too high, so I leave it to the NCS Trust to charge the optimal fee to get as many people on the programme as possible. We would never want the fee to be so high as to deter anyone. The Government want to give a clear steer to the trust to make sure it gets as many young people as possible on the programme.