Growing need for a citizen service for Wales

Andy Bevan, author of IWA’s 1st Senedd Paper, A Real Citizen Service for Wales, provides an update on efforts to win support for its proposals

It seems that every day since Senedd Paper No. 1 was launched on 22 January 2014 brings new reminders of the aptness and timeliness of the proposals contained in it. Even so, good ideas are never enough; we have to find the means to implement them. To put it another way, we need to convince those who hold power in Wales.

Today on ClickonWales

Today on ClickonWales Andy Bevan gives an update on his Senedd Paper, A real citizen service for Wales’.

The Senedd Papers are a series of papers looking to suggest practical policies for decision makers to implement.

You can read Andy’s paper here.

What’s happened since 22 January? IWA hosted a successful round-table session at the Senedd on 7 May with broad support from a cross-section of civil society in Wales – including representatives from WCVA, CWVYS, Unite the Union, Youth Cymru, Boys’ and Girls’ Cubs of Wales, Cardiff City Council and Vale of Glamorgan youth services and many more.

When the Welsh Government turned tail on their previous refusal to allow a Welsh pilot for No.10’s NCS (National Citizen Service) – part of Cameron’s early, post-2010 hung election musings on the theme of a “Big Society” –  IWA set about explaining clearly the major differences between our own proposals for a real Citizen Service in Wales and the “NCS” scheme. In a nutshell, our proposal is for a programme open to 18-25 year olds in Wales, of 9-12 months’ duration. It is intended to attract co-funding through the European Social Fund, and would provide proper in-service training, supervision and full pay. It presumes a government-led, society-wide response to long-term problems of youth disengagement and ageing population.

By comparison, the English “NCS” is a much shorter-term, unpaid scheme for 16-17 year olds, and is more in the nature of a Training for Citizenship or social awareness scheme, rather than a truly citizen service programme.

New factors of longer term significance for our own campaign in recent months include:

  1. On 30 October, the Welsh Government announced agreement with the EU on a European Social Fund package of £2bn for Wales for 2014-2020.  I would argue the need to build a commitment to citizen service into the strategy for that 7 year period, with long-term institutional change resulting from the public investment made.
  2. Carwyn Jones has reshuffled his Cabinet and set up a new role for public service reform, with Leighton Andrews in charge. Citizen service is part of an approach which embraces the idea of co-production and democratic engagement in public service. It also emphasises traditionally Welsh values of social solidarity and aims for public sector trade union support.
  3. Sarah Rochira, our Older People’s Commissioner, published a report on 7 November drawing attention to the need for vast improvements in standards of elderly care throughout Wales and MarK Drakeford, Wales’ Minister of Health, talks increasingly of the need for a combined Health, Care and Welfare service in Wales. The enrolment of young people in citizen service can help directly and effectively with this important agenda for social reform.

Indeed, there is  now scope in my view for IWA to play a role in bringing together the offices of the Older People’s Commissioner, Public Services Wales, the NHS Confederation in Wales, Age Cymru and others to work out a concrete way forward, utilising citizen service as part of the solution. The days of slavishly following in Westminster’s footsteps are long gone. There is a great deal we can profitably learn from other partners in Europe. For example, there is an open invitation for a Welsh delegation to visit Germany and France to study how concepts of publicly-funded citizen service programmes (e.g. BFD and Service Civique) are helping to improve the quality of social care there.

Finally, I am convinced by the growing body of support around the concept of a Living Wage, currently calculated at £7.85 per hour (compared with the minimum wage level of £6.50). I would argue that the budget set out in our Senedd Paper should be amended to accommodate this Living Wage for full-time citizen service, with a corresponding reduction in the number of placements from 1250 a year to, say, 1,000 instead.

Andy Bevan spent nine years with VSO between 1988-1997 supporting development projects in Africa. From 1997 to 2013 he worked on the EU’s Voluntary Service programme and in 2000 co-founded ICP Partneriaeth. He is the author of the IWA's Senedd Paper 'A real citizen's service for Wales'.

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