‘Big Society’ Cameron rises from the ashes as NCS Chief of Staff and saviour of our young people

You’ve probably heard that a discredited and disreputable former Prime Minister has taken up the job of leading young people into a promised land of diversity and opportunity.  David Cameron is to chair an expanded National Citizen Service, his very own public school-influenced pet project. At this point you might hope, and I’ve given it a passing start, for a scathing satirical piece, taking the piss out of notions of leadership, strategy and tactics, ethics and judgement when attached to this particular individual – not to mention pricking the bubble of his rhetoric. Frankly it’s beyond my wit, never mind energy. And in my defence I will copy and paste quotes in italics from his own self-congratulatory piece in the Telegraph – I’ve found my first job after politics, building the Big Society. Mind-boggling self-delusion and hubris. So a word in David’s ear NCS is a conscious neoliberal political intervention. As the Guardian puts it in its coverage, “Former PM’s first job after quitting as MP is to chair organisation whose aim is to instil social responsibility in young people.” There’s nothing post-politics about Cameron’s new role.

Ta to the new statesman

In the meantime I wonder how long it will be before our leading youth organisations rush forward to applaud Cameron’s ‘job from the boys’ appointment, hailing it as a major breakthrough for the sector.

When I look back over six years as prime minister, one of my proudest achievements is the creation of National Citizen Service. I often get stopped in the street by parents who tell me what a difference NCS has made in the lives of their children; and I regularly receive letters from young people who have so enjoyed taking part.

From the pilot projects that I began as Leader of the Opposition to the full-scale programme that we have today, more than 275,000 people have taken part in what has become the fastest- growing youth movement of its kind in the world.

Overall, NCS is a fantastic example of the positive and inspirational role young people can play in our modern, vibrant society. It is the Big Society in action.

NCS is supported by government funding, which means that young people pay no more than £50 to take part, with bursaries available for those who are not able to afford this. So I am delighted that Theresa May is continuing the vital work to support NCS and that today the Government is introducing the National Citizen Service Bill. With cross-party support, this will create a Royal Charter to secure the NCS Trust as a permanent national institution that can ultimately offer a place to every 16- and 17-year-old. That should be our goal – not necessarily a compulsory programme, but one that is universally available and becomes a normal part of growing up for every teenager.

But making NCS a rite of passage requires more than political leadership. It requires leadership from every part of society. From industry to the arts, from sport to the media, from local communities to the wider public sector, we need everyone involved in a national mission to make NCS a normal part of growing up that can give every generation a greater sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.

By bringing together expertise from every part of society we can embed NCS in our national fabric. And we can continue to build this special movement – empowering our young people to be united in their diversity, with the skills to get on in life and the compassion to support each other.

That is the vision for NCS that I had all those years ago when I first thought about developing the programme; and together we now have the opportunity to make it a reality for generations to come.

Back in May we posted under the following title, Two Fingers to Youth Service as NCS put on Statutory Footing. Cameron’s contempt for youth work and the youth service is made plain by the utter absence of any acknowledgement of a history, within which the elements of NCS have always been staples of practice.

Here’s a paragraph from a piece on Youth Work and Neoliberalism I’ve been co-writing, which might see the light of day sometime in the future.

The Conservative government’s intention to recast informal youth work in its own image is symbolised by the launch of a National Citizen Service (NCS). Aimed at 15-17 year-old school leavers, this comprises an unremarkable three week programme of team-building and volunteering kicked off by a residential outdoor activities week. In 2014-15, on a budget of £140M the take-up was just 58,000 compared with the up to a million young people who had been sampling or making regular use of local Youth Service provision (NCVYS, 2013). Crucially NCS replaced this open access, year long, informal youth work with a time-limited non-formal practice infected from the outset by neo-liberal assumptions. Branded as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ with a marketing budget in 2015 of over £8m delivery contracts were awarded only to private and voluntary organisations. Spurious ‘monetised claims were made about its outcomes, suggesting that the social return on NCS was worth almost three times its cost (de St Croix, 2016). In the real world its participants, lauded as NCS graduates, found that with the collapse of the Youth Service infrastructure a dead end was often reached. Yet, after consistently ignoring the youth work field’s pressure to strengthen the legislative basis of the local authority Youth Service, in 2016 the anti-statist Conservative government ignored its own ideology in announcing legislation requiring local authorities, schools and other state bodies to promote a programme, which was failing palpably to meet its targets. In the teeth of the evidence £1.2bn was set aside to fund NCS through to 2020 – more than enough to restore the cuts to open access youth work provision made in the previous five years.

We might add that between 2012 and 2016 over 600 youth centres were closed, 139,000 youth service places lost and some 3660 youth worker jobs abolished (Unison, 2016). And to add insult to injury the NCS advertising budget is now £75 milion with the Trust looking to recruit a firm with “a proven track record of creating and executing potent campaigns to shape brand perception and behaviour amongst youth and parents/guardians. We need to connect and engage with young people and inspire them to participate in NCS, pre-, during and post-programme.”

Such has been the failure of the NCS in meeting its targets that the Trust has set up pathfinder programmes in an attempt  “to bring on board organisations that have a pre-existing relationship with young people and a “deep reach” into communities.”

And so the hypocrisy and deception continues. With Cameron at the helm we can but expect more bullshit.


  1. Paul Oginsk, who helped develop the governments’s flagship National Citizens Service says youth organisations need to change the way they calculate the value of their work.

    Which Youth Organisations in Particular ?

    The ones expected to prove the value of their work to government ?

    The ones set up because the traditional Youth Services couldn’t “prove the value of their work ” to Government ?

    Surely this isn’t the NCS wanting to change the way “value” is calculated ?

    If you can’t reach the Targets change the Targets.

  2. Scouts,Girl Guides, Cadets are Youth organisations which offer all round development skills. NCS sounds more like recruitment ground for Common Purpose and Momentum and akin to Hitlers Youth – brain-washing vulnerable and impressionable youngsters.

  3. You would need to provide some evidence of links between the Tory inspired NCS and the left leaning Momentum and Common Purpose for that to hold water Joscelyne.

    To me it seems more akin to Kids Company to much political capital and taxpayers money invested for its bluff to be easily called, but doomed to failure eventually.

    People could start by asking the question its supporters on this site have yet to answer.

    ” What is the difference between the NCS programme and that of the Explorer Scouts which justifies £1.2 Billion funding ?”

  4. Just noticed the NCS parents information states that the Spring and Autumn programmes are shorter with only three residential days, are the providers still getting the full £1000 per person for these programmes ?

  5. Following the findings of the National Audit Office I think the NCS unfettered rise is clearly at risk.

    If so we wait to see what happens to the money set aside for its expansion. Will it be viewed as saving or re-distributed? Will it be ring fenced for youth? Will it be replaced by another big government project e.g. Connexions.

    Ons to watch I think.

  6. I work for the National Citizen Service and it is an AWESOME project. But what rattles me is David Cameron did not create this. The Challenge Society charity created the idea and had been running the service for years before it approached the government for funding. This is not David Cameron’s brain child and it irks me that it is being celebrated as a Tory achievement.

  7. Hi Megan

    Can you explain what the NCS offers which hasn’t been on offer to young people already ? the Explorer Scouts, the D of E and many other voluntary organisations offer the same combination of outdoor education and community good deeds at far less cost to the taxpayer, why reinvent the wheel ?

  8. Megan

    I think Awesome belies the real truth of the NCS. It has successfully engaged high numbers of young people and I would accept that feedback from participants appears favourable. It has though achieved this with a substantial budget and at a very high level of cost per participant. The numbers actually taking part against targets has steadily decreased over the years whilst the initial cost/value ratios have been significantly reduced downwards in subsequent evaluations.

    I would also take issue with your statement that the Challenge (who now market themselves as the UK’s leading charity for building a more integrated society) started the NCS years before it obtained government funding. According to their website they were only founded in 2009, whilst David Cameron formally announced the NCS in 2010.

    The question Tony Ransley continues to raise is a fair one and has never been properly answered despite being raised within many different forums (I am not stalking you Tony). If we are to provide statutory funding for one project whilst the remainder of the sector struggles against reducing funds to survive there must be a strong rationale for doing so.

    We now have a report from the National Audit committee questioning its value and I am aware also that a number of conservative MP’s have questioned if this spend would be better allocated to providing careers support. Yet it continues to grow unabated.

    I sometimes feel like a worn out recording, but I am saddened and angry to see so many leaving youth work and so many organisations struggling for survival when money is being promised to one single idea, whatever adjective is used to describe it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.