But I must say the experience of the 2 organisations I met have persuaded me there is merit in the scheme, especially as it has been developing away from its crude social mix origins.
Craig Morley runs the Challenge Network, which is one of the main organisations involved in NCS. Next year up to 15,000 young people will take part in The Challenge programme across the country, including all Greater London boroughs. He has asked me to visit the programme next August.
Worth setting out what they do to give you an impression of the scope of the programme.
"Team Challenge week (residential)
During the second week of the programme, young people stay at a residential accommodation within their local area (typically a university hall of residence). The objectives of this week are twofold:
to enable young people to learn soft skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication to provide opportunities for young people to interact with members of their local community that they wouldn't usually mix with. This is achieved through the young people visiting a community organisation over two days where they design and deliver skills workshops for the service users.
Real Challenge week (non-residential)
Young people spend the week planning two social action projects they will deliver over September weekends:
A sponsorship activity that will raise awareness of and funds for a local charity or community organisation A community campaign that focuses on a specific problem or issue within their local area. Past campaigns have focused on improving poor street lighting and methods that encourage people to get to know their neighbours Real Challenge week culminates in the young people taking part in a Dragons Den style funding pitch, where they have to secure the necessary funds for their projects.
What you can visit/active roles you can play A community partner visit Host a professional visit for a team of 12 young people, giving them an insight into your organisation and providing constructive feedback on their funding pitch Act as a dragon on a funding pitch. "
But what I thought was key was that there is strong follow on by the people involved in continuing to stay involved and to volunteer. Frankly unless the 2 weeks led to more engagement and involvement in community and sector organisations. And they have evaluated the projects to prove they do.
Craig is also an impressive CEO. He has scaled up the organisation dramatically. We chatted about how we can promote scalability in our sector. He is a strong believer in a businesslike and professional approach to running a show and has grown his Challenge network to a £22m, 250 staff outfit in 5 years.
I wonder sometimes if we get into a cult of the "small". Of course, we know small charities and community organisations make huge contributions. Some do not need nor want to scale. But others should. There is such a thing as economies of scale! And if our mission is so incredibly strong and right then an ambition to grow big is a laudable one. We should support that. We want to see more big charities capable of taking on the SERCOs of this world.
Then yesterday I met Stephen Greene who runs Rockcorps.
They have the rather natty line of "got2give2Get". So they pull together young people who volunteer in the local community and then they get a ticket to a rock concert for people like Lady Gaga (even I have heard of her). Stephen says again they hve a good record of people coming back to volunteer again. And he is able to appeal to a whole bunch of young kids who probably would not get involved otherwise but are lured in by the promise of tickets. It a rather fine idea! Stephen is also involved in preparations for setting up the company outside Government who will run the scheme. At the moment run form Cabinet Office, so it needs to escape.
It is clear the NCS scheme is evolving and changing. It will need to change more. It will reach a peak and then they will have to be prepared for more innovation and to drop rigid criteria on social mixing, for example, which have stopped bodies like the Princes Trust from getting involved. The aim is to cover all young people so they will need to be flexible.
Overall , this is a scheme that is evolving in a good way and where our sector can lay an expanding role. And let's hope in the future we will be at scale so we can expel the private sector form any provision!! Not that I object to SERCO. I just want it all non profit!