The Cabinet Office has budgeted to give grants worth £7m to the Challenge Network for its National Citizen Service project in 2011/12, according to civil society minister Nick Hurd.
Hurd gave the figure in response to a parliamentary question from Gareth Thomas, the shadow civil society minister. He said the department had given £1.2m to the charity in 2010/11.
"The Challenge Network is one of the Cabinet Office’s partners for delivery of the National Citizen Service," he said. "In 2010/11 the Cabinet Office provided grant funds of £1,236,000 to the Challenge Network and has current grant awards for 2011/12 with the Challenge Network up to the total of £7,017,702."
A spokeswoman for the Challenge Network said it would provide 10,000 places on the National Citizen Service programme this summer, and had provided 3,000 places last summer. She said the charity was "by far the largest provider" of the programme and had been awarded the funds after a competitive tendering process.
The charity will run schemes in Manchester, Birmingham and every London borough this summer, she said. Under the programme, school leavers attend seven or eight-week projects that include community work, a physical challenge and a residential placement.
The Challenge Network was set up in 2008 by the Shaftesbury Partnership, a social business co-founded by Lord Wei, the Conservative peer who was appointed as a government adviser on the big society in May 2010. Wei stood down from the advisory role in May 2011.
Last year Roberta Blackman-Woods, then shadow civil society minister, said the government’s decision to award funds to the Challenge Network raised "serious ethics and transparency questions".
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman issued a statement today that said all the funds given to the Challenge Network were for the National Citizen Service programme. She said she was unable to provide a further breakdown of how the money had been spent.