National Citizen Service bill: A first look

The government introduced the National Citizen Service bill yesterday for its first reading in the House of Lords, following its announcement in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. The National Citizen Service (NCS) is already up and running – so what is it that the bill actually does?

What is the National Citizen Service?

NCS is a voluntary personal and social development programme for 16 and 17-year-olds. Running for two to four weeks in the school holidays, it has three key ingredients: adventure, skills development and social action. The original aims were to give young people the opportunity to

  • develop the skills they needed to be ‘active and responsible citizens’,
  • mix with people from different backgrounds, and
  • get involved with their communities.

Since it started five years ago, NCS has reached tens of thousands of young people. According to the last announcement, by 2020, NCS will receive over £1bn of public money and is expected to serve 300,000 young people per year.

What is in the NCS bill and the Royal Charter?

The NCS bill is intended to secure the future of NCS and make the NCS Trust more accountable to Parliament and the public. A new body, the National Citizen Service Trust, will be established by Royal Charter.

At the moment, NCS is managed by a community interest company by the same name, the NCS Trust, and is delivered by different regional and local providers.

Under these proposals, the new NCS Trust will provide programmes for young people, which should:

  • enable participants to mix with others from different backgrounds to work together and participate in social action projects that benefit local communities and society, and
  • enhance participants’ communication, leadership and team-working skills.

The bill also makes a number of provisions to make the NCS Trust accountable to Parliament and the public. For example, under these proposals, the NCS Trust will have to prepare a business plan and report on its performance to the Secretary of State. Its accounts would be audited by the National Audit Office.

The bill also makes provision to better promote the scheme. For example, HMRC will send out promotional material to young people and their parents and carers. When the bill was first announced, we understood that a new duty would be placed on schools and local authorities to promote the scheme, but this has not been taken forward.

On this new statutory footing, the NCS Trust will also come under the Freedom of Information Act.

What next?

We recognise that NCS has made a difference for lots of young people, from supporting them to develop skills and gain valuable experience, to offering an opportunity to make a difference in their local community.

We’re pleased that there’s a renewed commitment to making NCS available to all young people, particularly those from deprived backgrounds. Going forward, NCS should build on its existing record of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and focus more on diversity and inclusivity. Those who face additional barriers to getting involved should also be able to benefit from the scheme.

While voluntary action is one key ingredient of the whole NCS programme, it has real potential as part of young people’s journey into social action and volunteering – whether as a starting point or a staging post. For this to be the case, the voluntary action element of NCS needs to be high quality and participants should be supported into other volunteering opportunities.

For NCS to be as attractive to young people as possible, young people should also be meaningfully involved in the development of NCS going forward.

There is an opportunity for NCS to collaborate further with the voluntary sector. As we’ve highlighted before, we would like to see NCS to be more embedded within the local volunteering ecosystem, building on networks and working with smaller, local organisations with relevant expertise.

It looks like NCS will continue to get high-profile backing, as it was announced that David Cameron will become the chairman of NCS Patrons.

Get involved

As the bill makes its way through parliament, NCVO will be co-ordinating a group of charities to inform the debate about NCS and to make these points and others to MPs. We would like to hear from any organisations who would like to be involved in this process. Please email

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Emily was NCVO’s trainee volunteering development policy officer. She is interested in policy around volunteering, particularly diversity in volunteering, employability, volunteering in public services, and employer supported volunteering.

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