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NCS doesn't need a revamp - it needs a total rethink

JANUARY 21, 2020

As the NCS Trust puts out a contract worth up to £10m to revamp its brand is this the time to think again?

The Trust, - a not-for-profit organisation incorporated by Royal Charter, is initially offering a two-year contract to deliver a brand identity project for the NCS and would then continue to work as its lead creative partner on a campaign basis for the duration of the two-year contract, with the option to extend it for two further 12-month periods.

Since its establishment in 2011, by then Prime Minister David Cameron the organisation has been dogged by claims that it is under subscribed. The Local Government Association claimed last July that only 93,000 young people took part in NCS schemes in 2016 – just 12 per cent of those eligible. This was despite the scheme receiving more than £630m of government funds between 2014 and 2017, at a time when local authority funding for local youth services was cut by 40 per cent between 2010 and 2016. More here.

In the same month, specialist think tank NPC told Third Sector magazine that the government should consider scrapping the organisation and redirecting its funds to other youth organisations if they proved more effective.

Despite being around since 2011, the contract calls for an agency to help it deliver "a razor-sharp brand proposition, a brand identity that is fit for purpose in the digital age and a creative platform that can not only cut through the clutter but live and breathe through every single touchpoint… to make NCS the best known and loved youth movement brand in the UK." 

Since its inception, the NCS has received a mixed reception in the youth sector.  Although any spending on youth activities is ‘uncritically welcomed’ like many other organisations, we have challenged that such resources would be better spent in keeping universal youth services open at a time of ideologically driven cuts and wide-scale destruction of services both in the statutory and voluntary sectors.

And this challenge is not new.

The Education Select Committee’s (2011) Services for Young People inquiry recommended that NCS should not continue in its current form in the light of ‘concerns about the scheme’s cost and practical implementation’ and similar ‘value for money’ concerns have been the subject of ongoing scrutiny with the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

For many, the hardest thing to digest is that the service cost the government £634m between 2014/15 and 2017/18. This figure, equating to around 95% of central government spending on youth services.  This huge amount of money being spent on the NCS scheme while local youth clubs are closing and youth services are becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Unite’s response to the APPG inquiry sets out the need for a Youth Service Strategy outlining how a well-funded universal youth service sets young people on the path to success and how this can represent real value for money.

A well-funded youth service promotes social inclusion, encourages partnership working, assists young people at risk, gives young people hope and aspiration and is cost effective.

The campaign group, ChooseYouth, estimates along with all previous professional calculations of resource requirements, that for just £350 a year per young person, all young people could have access to youth work services in their immediate locality.

Unite believes that the government needs to take this radical approach in order to deliver the youth work offer that young people in England deserve. A statutory youth service, with dedicated ring fenced funding, provided by a core of JNC qualified youth workers from the statutory and voluntary sector, working with trained and supported volunteers with one full time nationally qualified youth worker for every 400 young people.

Universal youth services have disappeared in many parts of the country, and youth work provision is instead often being used to ‘firefight’ and provide targeted responses rather than an open access service for all young people.

With the worrying rise in knife crime and gang culture, and the tragic loss of life seen in London and Birmingham over recent weeks, there is an urgent need for a frank and honest re-evaluation of youth services and a fairer distribution of monies to ensure young people can access universal youth services in the communities where they live.

We know that the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are supportive of the need for a statutory youth service but this needs cross party support and the government need to get on board and they do to so quickly.


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