NCS : A Calculated Tale of Monetised Benefits?


The government’s flagship National Citizen Service (NCS) scheme is returning up to £2 for every £1 invested!

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National Citizen Service (NCS) supports the Government’s vision for building a Big Society. It will act as a gateway to the Big Society for many young people by supporting them to develop the skills and attitudes they need to become more engaged with their communities and become active and responsible citizens. NCS will make a positive contribution to local communities, requiring close working with schools, local authorities, businesses and other neighbourhood groups to create a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society.

Summer is almost upon us and with it the second coming of Cameron’s pet project, the National Citizen’s Service [NCS]. For a couple of weeks I’ve been meaning to write something, but to no avail. I put this down to the fact that I suspect I’m the only sad soul. who has read the Evaluation of the NCS Pilots in its entirety. As will become clear I found the experience mind-numbing. Those responsible for  my diminished mental state comprise yet another consortium, made up of the NatCen Social Research, The Office for Public Management, New Philanthropy Capital and Frontier Economics.  They claim to be independent. Their research lacks any social or political context – in this light see below Bernard Davies’s resignation from his role as Visiting Professor at the De Montfort University. Their findings just happen to suit the Coalition with the Prime Minister gushing. “Every time I meet young people taking part in NCS they tell me what a difference it has made: they feel more confident about their future and more connected to their community. I am delighted that the independent evaluation reflects this and shows that NCS makes a real difference to the lives of young people and to our country.” Fair enough the spewing of such a spin on what is hailed as a ground-breaking mix of the residential experience, group work and community action is inevitable, but at the very least a few questions need to be posed.

In trying to do so I will take one step at a time. So to begin I’ll pick up on the remarkable claims about the financial impact of NCS, signalled already by Neil Puffett in Children and Young People Now.

Government hails success of National Citizen Service scheme

Based on analysis of last year’s pilots, involving 8,500 young people, the government says that of £200m it will have invested in the scheme by 2014, it could reap as much as £400m in benefits to communities.

The return ratio is estimated based on the value of community work carried out by young people on the scheme and their improved educational outcomes, as well as an approximation of the wages that young people could earn in the future.

“More than £10m in increased earnings, including almost £3m in increased tax revenue, can be expected from increased confidence, improved leadership and communication,” the report said.

This information drew the following comment from Peter White as a comment on CYPN.

At last we have it – a price tag on the value of young people! Finally we know how much they are worth; not only can we get value for money from our investment but we can itemise the bill.

Surely an outcomes-driven approach has gone too far when young people become economic units; when social mixing and increased well-being become outcomes that were ‘also found’ and the youth service is primarily for 30,000 16 year olds!

In truth the speculation is staggering in its erstwhile simplicity – much like those projections about bank holidays costing £2.3 billion – but such is the empty arrogance of what passes as economics.  On the other hand we might ponder why a similar formula has not been drawn up in the past to measure the value of open access youth work? Obviously it’s easier to do with a discrete short-term programme like NCS, but to be honest in recent years we’ve amassed a mountain of statistics  with which to conjure. Do we detect here a lack of political will by successive administrations? Do we suspect that the figures, we might have concocted, would not have suited their shared desire to undermine universal youth work provision?

To give you a greater insight into the mysteries of the formula utilised to calculate the ‘monetised’ benefits of NCS the report argues:

The net present value of the benefits to society as a whole are estimated to be up to £28 million, which is made up of:

  • the equivalent of £618,000 in time donated by volunteers over the course of the programme
  • £10.2 million in increased earnings for NCS participants because of increased confidence in teamwork, communication, and leadership; and
  •  Up to an additional £17.1 million increase in earnings for NCS participants because of greater take up of education opportunities.

It’s a flight of fancy, but, given the information I had in my hands as a Chief Youth Officer in the past and using the above ‘formula’ , I reckon I could have come up with some mind-boggling figures about the financial impact of a local Authority Youth Service. Anybody out there,  care to speculate in the same vein? In the next post relating to the Evaluation I’ll need to stay with the supposed ‘monetised’ benefits as the NCS is compared to other programmes, including some in the USA. I know you’re on tenterhooks! After that it will be forward to the more interesting area of ‘non-monetised’ benefits.

As a postscript because he doesn’t want a great fuss to be made, you will find below Bernard Davies’s resignation letter sent to the Youth and Community Work Division at the De Montfort University. The background to this decision is to be found on the NYA site at Intensive Practice Placement.

The National Youth Agency (NYA) working with De Montfort University (DMU) is pioneering a new intensive kind of practitioner placement for student youth workers linked to the government’s flagship National Citizen Service (NCS) programme for 16 year olds.

Around 25 youth work students from the Leicester-based university will be employed by the NYA to work with 16-year-olds on a residential programme this summer for National Citizen Service, which the NYA in partnership with O2, is helping to deliver in Kent and Warrington. The O2 Think Big programme offers young people a summer of fun, friendship, new skills and adventure as part of NCS. With O2 Think Big, these participants will get the chance to develop and deliver a social action project that will transform their local community.

The NYA and DMU have now put steps in place so that five youth work students in their second year will be able to use this experience to formally count as a placement towards their professional qualification.

As a leading figure in the work Bernard needs no introduction, which makes his eloquent stand all the more significant.

I am aware that my appointment as a Visiting Professor in the
Youth and Community Work Division is due to finish at the end
of 2012. However I have decided I need to resign from that role
immediately as a direct consequence of the YCW Division’s
decision to be involved in the National Citizens Service.

I know that from the start you set out some clear ‘bottom lines’
for this involvement, all of which I would certainly wish to
support. I do however have principled reservations about the
whole scheme which I have made public on a number of
occasions, verbally and in writing, particularly through my
contributions to the In Defence of Youth Work campaign. These
focus on its claims, within a very limited time frame but at a very
high cost, to be providing young people with a significant
developmental experience when facilities which offer this
through sustained and regular local open access youth work
services are being decimated.

These reservations are deepened by the evidence that is now
accumulating on how the scheme is in many areas being
implemented, with in some cases no job descriptions for staff
being provided, very low pay levels being offered and minimum
training and preparation being arranged. These in my view
constitute a wholly inadequate basis for any youth provision.
Moreover, given that residential experience is said to be central
to the NCS projects, they also carry very significant potential
risks, especially for the young people involved but also for the
staff running the scheme.

For all these reasons I would not wish to be associated with the
NCS initiative, even indirectly and even allowing for the
safeguards which I know you have sought to build in. Please
therefore accept this as my letter of resignation, to be passed to
the appropriate office within the University.

As I indicated when we talked on the phone, given the public
stances I have taken within youth work circles on NCS, I will be
seeking a way of making my resignation known to key groups
and colleagues with whom I am working closely.

Finally can I add that I have taken this decision with
considerable regret? Though I have recently felt that my VP role
has become too ‘honorary’ and not sufficiently actively
contributive, I have much valued the link with the YCW Division
and above all the opportunity to be involved in its two Inquiries
into the state of youth work.

With best wishes.



  1. Well said Tony and Bernard. I was irritated enormously when I read the evaluation (you’re not alone Tony) I was dumbfounded as to the comparison group of young people who had not participated in the NCS as evidence that the programme was effective. NB: The non-particpating 16 years olds were drawn from maintained schools……..I wonder how many of these young people attend all year around youth provision?……or in deed if approaching youth service providers was even considered to engage with non-participating 16 year olds.

  2. Diane – two sad souls, who’ve read the Evaluation!? In subsequent episodes will speak to this bizarre contrast with the classic ‘control’ group. Who picked whom?

  3. I work for the NCS summer programme for 4 years now and am finding this all fascinating! I’m considering a masters in Youth Studies later this year and would love to read more into this. The NCS in itself is not an inherently awful programme and I have witnessed a incredibly positive impact on Young People, but it for sure has holes and I’m finding your posts to be very insightful!

  4. I agree Tony Tania’s paper makes excellent reading and I did when we last meet ask if she had any intention of returning to the subject.

    I shall watch this space regarding the seminar.

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