Sunak tried to scrap volunteer scheme similar to national service pledge

Rishi Sunak tried to scrap a national volunteering scheme similar to his new “national service” plan when he was chancellor, according to sources who worked with him at the time.

He argued that the National Citizen Service (NCS) was not good value for money but Boris Johnson stepped in to save the programme, i has been told.

Although the NCS was not abolished, it has had its budget cut by more than two thirds since the last general election.

The scheme founded under David Cameron offers residential courses to teenagers, teaching them leadership and teamwork skills in order to make a difference in their communities, and volunteer programmes based in local areas.

It shares many of the same aims as the Prime Minister’s proposed policy of national service, which would see a small minority of 18-year-olds spending a year in the military while most sign up for a compulsory 25 days of volunteering instead.

The NCS was intended to fulfil Lord Cameron’s “big society” promise after the 2010 election.

It allows children aged 16 and 17 to sign up for five-day residential courses at a heavily subsidised cost of £95, and claims to help them develop skills which will enable them to succeed in employment or community volunteering.

There are also “community-based experiences” which involve year-round activities for young people.

Between 2019 and last year, the budget of the scheme – which is almost entirely funded through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – fell by 68 per cent, from £158.6m to £50.3m.

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The trust that runs it said it had to reduce staff and “find significant efficiencies” in order to continue operating.

A source involved in discussions about the future of the programme when Mr Sunak was chancellor said: “We worked very, very hard to stop Rishi abolishing the current National Citizen Service which is now a shadow of what was launched in 2010.”

Another source confirmed the account.

Tory campaign insiders denied that the Prime Minister had wanted to scrap the NCS but said that the party would learn from the experience of the past when setting up the new national service, which would be compulsory rather than optional and see around 30,000 teenagers enter the Armed Forces for a year instead of volunteering in civic society.

Asked why the NCS had had its budget cut, a minister blamed the need to control spending after the pandemic and energy crisis.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Foreign Office minister, told the BBC: “The reality is, over the last few years we have had a series of crises which have been incredibly expensive and we have prioritised – as any sensible government will do – both through Covid supporting families, businesses, communities, through the huge disruptions.

“And then, of course, with the shock of the illegal invasion by Putin of Ukraine we saw these enormous spikes in oil prices and food prices, caused by those disruptions which affected us like every other country in the world, and chancellor and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made some very determined calls to support our economy.”

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