Rob Wilson, the new Minister for Civil Society, has told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference that he would like to see a "massive" expansion in the youth programme the National Citizen Service.
On the third day since he was appointed to the job after the resignation of his predecessor Brooks Newmark, Wilson addressed the event, NCS: Delivering for Local Communities, in Birmingham yesterday.
"It's been a very hectic past 48 hours as you are probably aware, but I wanted to be here to be part of the terrific success of NCS," said Wilson.
Wilson said he had seen first-hand in his Reading East constituency the positive effects of the government-funded initiative, which brings together young people aged between 15 and 17 from different backgrounds and aims to build skills and confidence through a residential programme and volunteering activities.
"That's not to say there are no challenges – and I want to see this massively expanded over the next few years if that is at all possible and see how far we can push it," said Wilson.
"I want to make sure that we as a government can unleash the potential of young people through these schemes," he said, adding that an independent evaluation of the scheme showed it provided "terrific value for money".
In response to a question from the audience, he admitted it might be difficult to increase the project’s funding. "It's always difficult to find the money down the back of the sofa to make all this work," he said. But he said that the project had cross-party support and should continue to thrive under any future government.
The Office for Civil Society spent £84.3m on the NCS in the year to 31 March 2014, but there were fewer than 40,000 participants against a target of 50,000.
Speaking on the same panel, Michael Lynas, chief executive of the NCS Trust, the community interest company that manages the scheme, said his goal was to make NCS a rite of passage and "become the norm for all young people".
Lynas reiterated Wilson’s point on the evidence base. "Sometimes in politics we have politics-based evidence-making; here at NCS we have evidence-based policymaking," said Lynas.