National Citizen Service under fire from peer for high pay of senior staff

Lib Dem voluntary sector spokeswoman Baroness Barker asks how this represents value for the taxpayer

National Citizen Service
National Citizen Service

The National Citizen Service has defended the salaries paid to its senior staff and the level of its surplus after questions were raised about them in the House of Lords.

Speaking during a debate on volunteering in the Lords on Wednesday, Baroness Barker described the scheme, which gives school-leavers opportunities to participate in projects such as community work, physical challenges and residential placements, as "controversial".

Barker, the Liberal Democrats’ Lords spokeswoman on the voluntary sector, said two members of staff, the chief executive and the marketing and communications director, received remuneration of between £125,000 and £130,000 in the year to 31 March 2017, and six other staff received remuneration in excess of £80,000.

"That is for running a single programme, the majority of the funding for which comes from the government," she said.

"How does this represent value for taxpayers’ money? This is a very high-profile scheme and it should be able to withstand detailed scrutiny. Given the amount of investment in it, parliament ought to be responsible for ensuring that that scrutiny happens."

During the debate, Barker also pointed to the surplus of income over expenditure of £4.1m in that year. She questioned whether it was from the NCS’s government income and asked if the money would be returned or go into NCS reserves.

Asked about Barker’s claims, a spokeswoman for the NCS Trust, the community interest company that runs the scheme, said: "Our staff salaries are in line with market rates and are appropriate for our sector, their responsibilities, specialist skills and experience."

She said the trust’s remuneration policy was approved by a remuneration committee, which consisted of three non-executive directors, including the chair of the board and a government representative.

The surplus figure Barker mentioned, she said, "refers to money generated from the parental contributions of those attending the programme, not government funding. All parental contributions are used for the benefit of participants."

During the debate in the Lords, Lord Ashton of Hyde, a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said he did not agree with Barker’s description of the NCS as controversial.

He agreed the NCS should be held up for scrutiny and said he would reply to her comments in writing.

In October, in response to a Public Accounts Committee report that warned NCS running costs were "unjustified", the government acknowledged it needed to reduce the costs of running the programme.

And a National Audit Office report, published in February 2017, said 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.

But a report published by the Office for Civil Society in December 2017 said that the NCS delivered more economic benefits than it cost.

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