The Liberal Democrats are to call for a halt in the progression of the government’s National Citizen Service Bill in parliament later today.
Writing exclusively for Third Sector before a debate in parliament on amendments to the bill today, Baroness Barker, the Liberal Democrats’ voluntary sector spokesperson in the House of Lords, says plans to set the NCS "in the stone of a royal charter body must be halted, not least because Privy Council guidance states that ‘new grants of royal charters are these days reserved for eminent professional bodies or charities that have a solid record of achievement and are financially sound'. The NCS, despite unprecedented political support, is neither."
The National Citizen Service Bill would place the government’s scheme for 15 to 17-year-olds on a statutory footing, and also grant royal charter status to the NCS Trust, the community interest company that runs the programme on behalf of the government.
However, the government’s youth programme and the NCS Trust have faced stern criticism. Last month, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said that the level of funding for the scheme was unjustified after projected government spending on the programme rose to £1.5bn by the end of this parliament. The committee also accused the NCS Trust of not meeting the "standards of transparency" expected of an organisation funded almost entirely by the taxpayer.
In her article, Baroness Barker accuses the NCS Trust of having a "weak governance structure and a patchy performance record", and questions why it has been insulated from the rest of the voluntary sector and been fast-tracked to royal charter status.
She also makes a comparison between the NCS Trust and Kids Company, the children’s charity chaired by former BBC executive Alan Yentob, which received direct financial support from the government but collapsed in 2015 amid allegations of poor financial management. Baroness Barker says this government "is not the first to fund a vanity project, delivered by a favoured organisation with a high-profile chair and a questionable record of delivering measured outcomes".
The NCS Trust was not able to provide a comment in time for Third Sector's deadline.