Councils want National Citizen Service funding for youth services

Image source, PA

Millions of pounds of is being spent on the government's flagship citizenship scheme for young people while local youth clubs are closing, councils say.

The National Citizen Service, a four-week summer scheme for 15 to 17-year-olds - accounts for 95% of central government spending on youth services.

But the Local Government Association said only 12% of eligible teens took part in 2016.

The government said the service has improved 400,000 young people's lives.

Launched by former Prime Minister David Cameron - who now chairs its board of patrons - in 2011, the service cost the government £634m between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

The government said it was investing another £80 million on youth projects.

But the LGA said it was "wrong" that funding was tied up in one "very short programme", saying more than 600 youth centres had closed between 2012 and 2016.

The money should instead be given to local councils, who could then provide "all-year-round provision for young people", it added.

The LGA represents 370 councils in England and Wales. The citizen service runs in England and Northern Ireland.

What is the National Citizen Service?

Media caption,
The government hopes even more young people will sign up for service next year

The NCS was launched in 2011 by David Cameron as part of his "Big Society" project.

Now open to teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17, the NCS is a four-week programme that runs in local communities during the summer.

Volunteers take part in outdoor activities such as rock climbing and canoeing - while also working on community projects and learning skills such as money management.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said that while the NCS was a "good programme", the government needed to "provide targeted support to a much wider group of young people".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mervyn Kaye, who runs youth clubs in Lewisham, said the work of the NCS was "great", but said "time change".

"Simply put, youth workers need to be local. At a time of scarcity, local authorities need that cash to fund youth clubs."

He said the NCS helped "very small numbers" of young adding: "Where do they go afterwards, if you cut youth services?"

But the scheme's chief executive Michael Lynas said the NCS was a national scheme which was why it was funded by central government, adding that councils spent twice as much every year on local youth services.

He added: "It's growing very quickly, and it's working for those young people."

This is not the first time the NCS has faced calls for change. In 2017, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it "may no longer be justifiable" to keep the NCS going unless costs could be brought down.

The PAC report added that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which has overall responsibility for the scheme, lacked the data to "measure long-term outcomes of the programme or understand what works".