David Cameron’s pet National Citizen Service project fails to provide value for money, a key spending watchdog warns today.
The Public Accounts Committee says the programme costs £1,863 per placement a year and “may no longer be justifiable”, in a report published today.
The former Prime Minister boasted the National Citizen Service was “one of my proudest achievements” and hoped it would become “a rite of passage” for 16 and 17-year-olds.
The ex-Tory leader now chairs its panel of patrons.
The scheme has been handed £1.26billion of taxpayers’ cash from 2016-20 – and committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said it has received £475million since 2014/15.
The project costs almost four times as much as a place with the Scout Association, which costs about £550 and lasts at least four years.
“This and future commitments are significant sums yet it is not at all clear why NCS participation costs should be so much higher than those for a voluntary sector organisation such as the Scouts,” said Labour MP Ms Hillier.
“There are considerable long-term ambitions for National Citizen Service, a legacy of David Cameron’s vision of a ‘big society’.
“But in our view it has already reached a critical juncture.
“The Government intends to push on with plans to grow participation, citing evidence that NCS has had a positive impact on young people who have taken part.
“However, this does not in itself justify the level of public spending on the programme, nor demonstrate that NCS in its current form will deliver the proposed benefits to wider society.”
Since 2011 more than 300,000 16 and 17-year-olds have taken part in NCS, which usually takes place over four consecutive weeks and involves groups undertaking residential courses and community projects.
Early indications from the Office for Civil Society suggest it has had a “real impact” on those taking part.
It has boosted their confidence, developed team-building and life skills, and increased their awareness of the local community.
But the Committee says the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees NCS, lacks the data to measure long-term results.
Providers were paid £10million in 2016 for places that were not filled and MPs slammed the NCS Trust’s “relaxed attitude about the non-recovery of these funds”.
It raises concerns about the transparency and governance of the Trust, and says it is “unclear” whether the body has the skills and experience needed to oversee growth of the scheme.
MPs call on the Department to “establish a clear plan, and secure agreement with other government departments where necessary, by September 2017 for how it is going to evaluate the long-term impact of NCS”.