by Anonymous

The NCS, or National Citizen Service to those unfamiliar with this government’s only national youth programme, is the ultimate gamble for small and medium sized children’s charities. Get it right and you will be part of a growing piece of work which has secured funding until 2016 and is capable of making a life changing difference to thousands of young people. Get it wrong and you face penalties, claw back and financial ruin. 

In 2011 the coalition launched NCS and some 8,000 young people took part in a six week residential and social action programme. Attempting to create a rites of passage programme for young people based on models such as Americorps, it was designed to promote social mixing, encourage active citizenship and promote social action. During these early years the programme was almost exclusively delivered by not-for-profits and frontline providers received relatively generous payments to create a fantastic experience for those taking part.

Fast forward 24 months and this year’s programme seeks to work with 50,000 young people nationally and has seen large corporates, such as the ever popular Serco, take a prominent role. The money flowing to the frontline has reduced massively as additional layers of management have led to greater overheads and reduced monies being spent on the young people’s experience. Crippling targets are micro managed as the national charities (now regional leads) assert the pressure downwards from the national leads and Cabinet Office.

For those small and medium sized charities delivering NCS, particularly those who have delivered it for a number of years, the pace of change is dizzying. Because of the government’s desire to rapidly increase participant numbers, they are pressured to work with more and more young people, without fully appreciating the pitfalls of under-performance. For each young person not showing up on day one of NCS, they face a penalty charge of approaching 40%. Given that the fixed costs of delivery are far greater than the remaining 60%, providers face significant losses. Put another way; if a provider makes a small surplus of say £20 for each young person completing the 6 week programme, they would lose this surplus and that of 17 others if one young person does not turn up! The summer has also seen numbers cut after the point where a local provider can cancel their unwanted residential places. Providers shell shocked from this baptism of fire are now struggling with chronic under-recruitment for the Autumn programme which starts mid-October. For some this will certainly mean closing their doors for good.

On the flip side some charities are making NCS work. If you can deliver large numbers, at mid to high 90s against your target and gain support from local business the figures can be made to stack up. Your charity will be part of THE government youth programme and you can count on the increasing support of the NCS Trust (the independent management board charged with delivering NCS outside of government).

So, for those charities up and down the country delivering or contemplating delivering NCS, the question is ‘do we stick or twist’?