The government’s National Citizen Service attracted 20 per cent fewer participants than hoped for in 2013, an evaluation of the programme out today indicates.
The Cabinet Office-funded initiative brings together young people aged 15 to 17 from different backgrounds and helps them to develop greater confidence, self-awareness and responsibility by taking part in a residential programme and volunteering activities.
The study, carried out by Ipsos Mori, found that 31,738 young people took part in NCS programmes last summer and 7,828 in autumn 2013, but the Cabinet Office had previously said in a statement that it hoped to offer 50,000 places for young people in 2013. The study published today does not say how many places were actually offered, nor how many went unfilled.
The study found that 72 per cent of summer participants and 76 per cent of those who took part in the autumn scheme agreed they were now more likely to help out in their local communities, and 61 per cent who took part in the summer and 64 per cent who participated in the autumn reported feeling a greater responsibility to their local community after taking part in NCS.
Nine in ten of the participants (92 per cent in the summer and 91 per cent in the autumn) agreed that NCS had helped them develop useful skills for the future, and nearly all (97 per cent) of both summer and autumn participants said they would recommend the programme.
The study shows that it cost the Cabinet Office £62m to run the scheme last year, which equates to £1,550 per place for the summer programme and £1,650 per place for the autumn scheme. This was slightly less than the £1,700 per place it cost to run the scheme in 2012 when only the summer programme was run.
But the costs per place remain higher than the government’s initial estimates. In 2011, figures provided by the government to the Education Select Committee indicated that the cost per place would be £1,182 for 2011 and £1,233 for 2012. The government did not say at the time how much it would cost to run the scheme in 2013.
A cost-benefit analysis in the report suggests NCS delivered between £1.39 and £4.80 of benefits per £1 of expenditure in the summer and between £1.09 and £4.71 in the autumn.
Andrew Mycock, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Huddersfield, told Third Sector: "Last year the government said it hoped to have 50,000 young people go through the scheme, but less than 40,000 have taken part. It seems to indicate problems with recruitment and the setting of over-ambitious targets."
He also said the study highlighted problems with demonstrating the financial value of the scheme. "The fact the value-for-money range varies so widely indicates that they are not sure that they are actually providing value for money and whether the scheme is better than previous government-funded programmes it replaced, such as the youth volunteering programme v," he said.
Michael Lynas, chief executive of NCS Trust, said in a statement: "The young people who have taken part in NCS since 2011 are emerging as more confident and capable. The ability to work with others, speak in public and lead teams should not be seen as soft skills; rather, they are essential for teens who want to get ahead."