A much appreciated shot across the bows from Tom Wylie re our recent post
A measure of righteous wrath has been expressed about the assertion in the recent evaluation report on National Citizens Service that the programme’s community service element can be shown to have an economic benefit. Why the surprise ? Similar claims have been made down the years for such schemes,including Blunkett’s Millennium Volunteers and the work of V. Indeed, youth organisations such as the Scouts or Guides have from time to time deployed the argument that youth work undertaken by their volunteer leaders would otherwise cost £XXX when compared to the alternative of employing paid youth work staff. Indeed,some in the voluntary youth sector have made a life’s work out of claiming that its servants,whether paid or voluntary, can always go further and faster than the servants of the state.
A conservative –led government, intent on rolling back the welfare state, will always welcome such arguments. Moreover, the youth work sector as a whole has often compared the modest costs of its provision when compared,say, with incarcerating the young,or their unemployment. This argument may well be true but youth work has not been so good at demonstrating ,as distinct from asserting, how it prevents such negative outcomes.
The political reality is that HM Treasury expects any case for state-funded social programmes,especially new programmes , to show the potential economic return on investment (ERI). It has an elaborate set of requirements though many of these may be a form of financial smoke and mirrors given the intrinsic difficulties in doing the sums. Some advocates have turned to making a rather wider case about potential additional social benefits (SRI), not just economic ones . Such attempts may prove no less problematic ,though they may be a bit more appealing to the youth work sector with its traditional distaste for any metrics,especially economic ones.
Youth work’s wrath would be more usefully focussed on real concerns about NCS ,notably the increasingly apparent attempts to claim the moon by way of likely success while simultaneously cutting corners and costs. We could also do with an explanation of why some major national bodies in the field have aligned themselves with commercial servicing companies and rather questionable procurement practices (beyond the obvious one that some will make any sort of Faustian pact to get money ).