Ministers agree cost of National Citizen Service must be cut

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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has published a response to a Public Accounts Committee report on the programme

The government has accepted that it needs to reduce the costs of running the National Citizen Service, according to a government response to a select committee report on the programme.

In Treasury minutes published yesterday, the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport has responded to a Public Accounts Committee report, released in March this year, which warned that the costs of running the NCS were “unjustified” and had not been benchmarked against similar voluntary sector youth schemes.

The PAC report came after a similar report by the National Audit Office, published in February 2017, which said that participation targets for the NCS programme could be missed by 40 per cent and costs should fall by 30 per cent to stay within its £1.7bn budget.

The government response accepts the recommendation in the PAC report that the government and the NCS Trust – the governing body of the NCS – should develop a robust cost model for the programme before the next commissioning round in 2018.

The response says that, although the government has a good understanding of the costs of the NCS programmes, it “recognises that there is further work to be done to put the department and the trust into a stronger position to understand and reduce costs”.

This would include attempting to reduce the cost of places on the programme by 12 per cent in the next commissioning process for the NCS, which is due to take place next year.

The government says it agrees that it needs to publish benchmarking of its costs in advance of the next commissioning round, with a report due to be published in January.

The PAC report found that the NCS Trust paid partners approximately £10m for places that were not filled on its 2016 programmes. The government response accepts that the trust should provide an update on the recovery of this money.

Work to minimise the risk of paying for unfilled places on future NCS programmes has also been completed, according to the government.

But it disagrees that the Cabinet Office should provide a list of all companies substantially funded or controlled by the government that are not currently required to meet principles for managing public money.

This response concerns criticism in the PAC report that the Cabinet Office set up the NCS Trust without appropriate governance arrangements.

But the government accepts that the trust should put in place the governance, leadership and expertise required to aid its expansion, and says a full action plan has been completed and will be sent to the PAC this month.

The response says the government will work with the NCS Trust to publish a “clear plan for further strengthening the evaluation of the long-term impact of NCS”. The PAC report had raised concerns that the DCMS lacked the data to measure the NCS’s “long-term outcomes” or understand what works.

The DCMS will undertake a feasibility study shortly, the response says, which will decide the best approach to measuring long-term impact, with a study then carried out by an external provider.

But the response says this is due to be completed in February 2018, rather than by the target of September 2017 set out in the PAC report.

The PAC report’s recommendation that the government and the NCS Trust “think radically” about how the NCS is provided and how it works alongside other organisations have also been accepted by the government. Its response says the supply chain of organisations providing places on NCS programmes will be refreshed in 2018.

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