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Cabinet Office Questions

October 20, 2010

Nick Hurd answers MPs questions on encouraging more young people into volunteering and the National Citizen Service.

Volunteering (Young People)

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): What recent steps his Department has taken to increase opportunities for young people to volunteer. 18048

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): In the current financial year, the Department has provided £39 million in grants to the v organisation. On 22 July, the Prime Minister announced the introduction of the national citizen service to give young people an opportunity to develop the skills needed to be active and responsible citizens, mix with people from different backgrounds and start getting involved in their communities.

Mrs Hodgson: I thank the Minister for his response. At a fringe event at the Conservative party conference, I understand that the Minister for the Cabinet Office was quoted as saying that in his opinion the big society would be “chaotic and disorderly”. That being the case, I feel that his heart is perhaps not in it. How can he go on to encourage young people to volunteer so that they can pick up the right skills and be employed fruitfully in the future?

Mr Hurd: We are absolutely committed to that, and the national citizen service will be an extremely important opportunity to connect young people with their own power to make a difference in their communities. I know that the hon. Lady took a strong interest in that through her work on the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. If she had had the opportunity to talk to some of the young people who had taken part in this year’s pilot, she would have been as impressed as I was by the transformative effect that it had on them and on how they view their community and their own power to make a difference. We are very excited about it.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Voluntary organisations in my constituency rely on the great efforts of many people who are retired, and they are crying out for younger volunteers. Those volunteers need not just be teenagers, however. What plans do the Government have to facilitate opportunities for volunteering by people of working age?

Mr Hurd: We have planned a series of initiatives for the forthcoming years to promote wider volunteering and to connect people again with their own power to make a difference locally-that is the heart of the big society. I cannot be drawn on the detail of those plans, because they are subject to the spending review.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): If voluntary service for young people is to work, the third sector has to still be alive. This afternoon the Chancellor is going to try to drive a steamroller over the big society. Can the Minister explain why, in answer to parliamentary questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), three quarters of Whitehall could not say what contracts they had in place with the third sector? How can the Department protect the third sector from cuts this afternoon if it does not know what contracts are in place? Is the Minister not, in effect, flying blind?

Mr Hurd: I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman will eat his words later when he hears the Chancellor. I do not see any steamroller in evidence in relation to the big society, which is absolutely central to the Government’s mission. A central strand of that mission is to open up the public services to a more diverse set of providers, including and specifically contributions from the voluntary and community sectors. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, they are in a position to add a huge amount of value. That is a specific commitment of this Government, and we are going to deliver on it.

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National Citizen Service

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): What recent progress has been made on establishing the national citizen service. 18051

7. Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): What recent progress has been made on establishing the national citizen service. 18054

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): In July, the Prime Minister announced the start of the bidding process for providers of national citizen service pilots. We have been really pleased with the response, and in the next few weeks we expect to announce the successful bidders. We expect to provide places for about 10,000 young people, with a good geographical spread.

Mary Macleod: The national citizen service is a great example of how young people can make a difference in their local communities. What can I do to persuade people in Brentford and Isleworth to get more involved in the project?

Mr Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for her interest. As I said, the successful bidders will be announced shortly. They will be responsible for recruiting local young people and communicating the opportunities in their area. If a pilot is run in her area, I urge her to support its provider, as I would urge all MPs to do. The experience of young people in the pilots that have already taken place just down the road from her in Hammersmith has been extremely positive.

Charlotte Leslie: In my constituency, some of the richest wards exist side by side with some of the poorest wards in the country. Can the Minister reassure me that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds will also be encouraged to get involved in the national citizen service?

Mr Hurd: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, and those children will be more than encouraged. Involving people from all kinds of backgrounds is a central aim of the programme and a key part of its value. As part of the commissioning process, organisations bidding to deliver a pilot next summer have been asked to set out their specific plans to support the broadest range of young people to participate. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There are still far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I want to hear, and I hope the House wants to hear, Steve Rotheram.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): As a former employee of a quango, I am following the Minister’s much-vaunted “bonfire of the quangos”, as he called it. Now that the comprehensive spending review is upon us, can he tell the House what the total savings will be?

Mr Speaker: Order. Unfortunately, that question suffers from the disadvantage that it bears absolutely no relation to the question on the Order Paper. We must have another go, so I call Stella Creasy.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): The tender document for the national citizen service pilot sets out the Government’s refusal to meet the total costs of the programme. Just how much of the bill does the Minister expect the voluntary sector and young people themselves to meet?

Mr Hurd: The cost of the pilots will be revealed as a result of the spending review. We are committed to two years of pilots to test a range of approaches to delivering the service, which will help us to identify the most cost-effective way forward. We will have a clear idea of the likely costs of a wider roll-out of the national citizen service once we have evaluated the two-year pilot phase.

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