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National Citizen Service

The Cabinet Office established National Citizen Service (NCS) programme in 2011 as part of its ‘Big Society’ agenda to bring together local communities. This followed earlier pilots supported by the Conservative party. The then Prime Minister’s stated ambition was for NCS to become universal and a ‘rite of passage’ for young people and lead to a more responsible, cohesive and engaged society. It aims to bring together 16- and 17-year‑olds from different backgrounds to support their local community and their transition into adulthood through developing teamwork, leadership and communication skills.

An NCS course is normally four weeks and involves groups of 12 to 15 young people undertaking an outdoor residential to improve team‑building skills; a residential to learn life skills and prepare for independent living; and a community project, such as planting a communal garden or arranging a family fun day. All 16- to 17-year-olds across England and Northern Ireland can participate.

In 2013 the Office for Civil Society (OCS), then part of the Cabinet Office with the responsibility for NCS, set up the NCS Trust (the Trust) as a community interest company funded by the OCS, to take over managing NCS. The Trust is responsible for increasing the number of young people participating in NCS, ensuring a high‑quality NCS, reducing costs and ensuring the long-term sustainability of NCS. Since NCS launched, the OCS and, latterly, the Trust have focused on growing participation and demonstrating that NCS has an impact on young people. Up to 2015‑16, the OCS spent £443 million and committed a further £1.26 billion to 2020.

The Trust contracts third parties to provide NCS across 18 regions, coordinating the programme itself in one area. It pays them to go into schools, sign up young people, and run courses. It currently contracts nine providers, including three private sector companies and four not-for-profit bodies. Providers work with 300 other organisations, most of whom are not-for-profit local bodies specialising in youth work.

In July 2016, the government announced that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) would take responsibility for the OCS and NCS from the Cabinet Office. It also intends for the Trust to become a Royal Chartered body. A draft charter is currently being considered by Parliament alongside the National Citizen Service Bill, which aims to ensure NCS becomes a ‘national institution’, and governance and accountability match NCS funding.

Scope of this report

In this report we consider how well the implementation of NCS represents value for money, both now and in the longer-term. Specifically, we look at the early programme performance (Part One); the OCS’s approach to setting out its aims and targets (Part Two); and how well the OCS and Trust manage the programme (Part Three).

Appendices One and Two provide full details of our approach and methods.