Friday 23 July 2010

The National Citizen Service

Thursday proved a somewhat hectic day; in and out of news channel interviews; Sky, BBC, ITN, Radio 4 ( my favourite ; I am old so I like the wireless ! ). And my Deputy the estimable Dr Kyle filling in for the ones I couldn't do. All as a result of the comments I had made to The Times and which they carried front page.

Sky news

So what are the issues?

I am a fan of the concept of a national citizen service that introduces kids to the world of charity, volunteering and giving back. But the current ideas, based on the idea of the "summer camp" need development. Why?

# First, is a one size fits all approach right? We need a diversity of provision, not just the camp. As it is , correctly, not compulsory, then schemes need to appeal. Not all kids will do all that outward bound stuff. Why should they? So why can't we have schemes that are based inside charities where kids learn about what we do and are able to volunteer? Or support the many brilliant schemes already in existence.

# Second, this is a resource intensive approach. Setting aside the real issue of whether the funding will cover all the work should we look at some less costly schemes or support those already existing!.

# Third , is the top down national approach compatable with big society ideas which are supposed to value a bottom up- community based approach? Should we as big society decide that if there is £13m to support work with kids how it is spent?

# Fourth , if the schemes are to have impact with particularly disadvantaged kids then there has to be support before and after the "summer camp". And the third sector youth service is under particular threat from cuts.

Again we come back to the issue of cuts. It was summed up by one of my members at the No 10 Launch who said to me how ironic it as that as he left for No 10 he got an email from one of his top funders( state) saying they were cutting his grant.

So we have funding found for this new government initiative for young people and many fine schemes for young people in communities are being cut. Youth centres face funding shortfalls. That does not undermine the idea of support for national schemes but it should be part of a more comprehensive approach to youth volunteering. For example ,BTCV have a brilliant scheme for young volunteers working on sustainability projects. They want national funding. A " Big Green Society " as they term it. Surely kids who want to work for a better planet should have support as well as those who want to do outward bound? Or the wonderful residential schemes run by that most fabulous of charities, Youth at Risk?

It was fascinating talking to a range of my members at No 10. It is clear there has not been as fully thought through as we want. The approach appears to be " this is the answer" now let's do it. And again the established third sector, the sector that has run schemes for decades for youth is involved in as far as it supports the approach.

But I am optimistic we can influence and change. It happens with new governments- they are so keen on shiny new initiatives. They bring in people who have no experience or links with the sector and they run off thinking they know it all and don't need support! It will settle down.

And in all of this I managed to do some judging for the Charity Times Awards ( thankyou Andrew Holt for lending me your tie for the TV interviews! ), meet Martha Lane- Fox and chair a board meeting for the Social Investment Business in the Commons, no less!

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