Review could clear the way for a real citizen service in Wales

Andy Bevan says a new review provides a clearer basis for a real citizen service for Wales.

The IWA’s first Senedd Paper, A Real Citizen Service for Wales, was launched on 22 January 2014 and Click on Wales has regularly run updates on the campaign around it.

Soon after the paper’s launch, the task of taking its recommendations forward were complicated by the Welsh Government’s decision, under constant pressure from No. 10, to allow a small £300,000 trial or pilot in Wales, fully funded from London, of the UK Government’s “National Citizen Service”(NCS). The pilot took place in October 2014, with the Welsh Government committed to a review, evaluation and report on its implementation.

The report of that review process has now been published by the Knowledge and Analytical Services unit of the Welsh Government is available online. The full report runs to 70 pages but there is also a helpful 6-page summary.

I have recently read the report with great interest. As someone who was critical of the decision to allow an NCS pilot in Wales  I am pleased to say that the report makes it clear that the Welsh Government, after consultation with Welsh third sector organisations including WCVA/Gwirvol and CWVYS, insisted on clear and well-defined terms of reference for the pilot and a review which would be independent of the Cabinet Office at No. 10. The terms of reference agreed between Welsh Government and the Cabinet Office clearly stressed the need for the pilot to integrate effectively with the “Welsh social landscape” and to work with the relevant Wales-based organisations and programmes responsible for youth work, strengthening communities and tackling poverty.

A consortium of Wales-based youth organisations, led by Gwirvol, was unsuccessful in bidding to run the pilot in Wales. The contract was awarded to Engage4Life, a contractor based in Swansea who had already run NCS projects for the NCS Trust (who took over direct management of NCS in England from the Cabinet Office in November 2013) and who already had operational experience and commercial agreements with Urdd Gobaith Cymru to use their camp facilities for residential training.

Holding strongly to the pilot’s agreed terms of reference, the report gives weight to the short notice which was ultimately given to the chosen contractor, but remains critical of the way the pilot was implemented in Wales. In the event, 363 participants, aged 15-17, recruited through schools and FE colleges in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Swansea, the Swansea Valley and Carmarthen, took part in the pilot over the half-term holiday in October 2014.

Among the main points to emerge from the report are:

  • The need to recognise youth work and volunteering opportunities that already exist in Wales.

  • The risk of complicating an already well established landscape, particularly in relation to offering volunteering opportunities.

  • The potential of existing organisations in Wales to deliver any future NCS programme or similar as a co-ordinated effort.

  • The concern that funding a programme like NCS would take already stretched funds away from those organisations currently delivering youth work and volunteering opportunities in Wales.

  • The need to ensure the delivery of long-term support to young people in Wales.

  • The need to ensure that any future programme would have a Wales focus, and effectively address Welsh language delivery.

  • The potential overlaps with the Welsh Baccalaureate in Wales.

Where does this all leave the IWA’s own campaign for a A Real Citizen Service for Wales? I’d say that it probably clarifies the way ahead to some extent.

I would argue that the outdoor-education, team-building and citizenship awareness aspects of NCS can best be covered, in Wales, through the dovetailing of the Welsh Baccalaureate programme (also advocated and pioneered by the IWA) for 15-17 year olds in schools and colleges with the Youth Engagement and Progression Framework for those outside.

A continuing debate could then usefully take place around the very different target group and agenda of “our” conception of citizen service, which is aimed at 18-25 years olds from all backgrounds, who are willing to give 9-12 months’ properly paid and managed social service, especially in assisting with the solution of the problems of companionship and care of our elders. This conception of citizen service really needs to attract the interest of Welsh ministers responsible for health and social care and for inter-departmental co-ordination: primarily the Ministers for Health, for Finance and the First Minister. The citizen service advocated in the IWA’s Senedd Paper is not mainly about “youth problems”; it is about being forward-thinking enough to see young adults as a big resource to help in solving the long-term demographic problems implicit in an ageing society.

When we know who is who in the new Welsh Government after 5 May, I think that the IWA should make a concerted attempt to raise these important issues once again.

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. He is the author of the IWA's Senedd Paper 'A Real Citizen Service for Wales'.

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