The NCS and the “Magic Money Tree”

Abstract: This blog provides a summary of the full article published in Youth & Policy (09/10/17) (available free online). It draws on research data from a series of qualitative interviews with professional youth workers to suggest that contemporary English youth policy on citizenship and social action is problematic. It concludes that the civic engagement of young people is best be supported by sustained youth and community work, rather than through the National Citizen Service (NCS).

The “Magic Money Tree”

The idea of the “Magic Money Tree” was introduced during the 2017 Election campaign debate by Theresa May. It was used as a rhetorical device, a type of loaded language which sought to elicit an emotional response from the audience without further judgement. The phrase “Magic Money Tree” can be considered as a political euphemism for “austerity”, and is intended to deflect any counter political claims. Therefore, any politician that might suggest that public funding can be unshackled from the current “austerity” measures is living in “Cloud cuckoo-land“, and these proposals should be considered as either folly or foolhardy.

However, contrary to such claims made by Theresa May there is growing evidence that a “Magic Money Tree” does exist,as the recent ‘DUP deal’ demonstrates. Such a piece of political folly has been strongly criticised throughout parliament and within the wider media, with cries of “Where is the money for the Tory-DUP deal coming from?”, with serious concerns expressed about the Unionist party’s ‘social conservative’ agenda.

NCS as a strange fruit

Interestingly, a similar concern can and should be expressed about the new money announced by government for the National Citizen Service (NCS). In January 2016, during a period of the most severe programme of cuts to public servcies, including youth centres closures (see Butler, 2017Presser, 2016; UNISON, 2016), then Prime Minister David Cameron announced a £1.2 billion NCS bonanza. Such a policy flies in the face of common sense, the Daily Mail has described it as a “£1.5billion flop”, declaring that the ‘Flagship scheme facing the axe unless bosses can prove it is value money’. Moreover, concerns have been expressed about the ways the NCS programmes are run, research suggests that they are failing their targets or have any meaningful long term impact on volunteering and social action, the National Audit Office (2017) has highlighted concerns about the NCS Trust’s operational accountability and service effectiveness; and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has questioned its governance arrangements and high operational costs, and expressed serious concerns about its safeguarding arrangements (House of Commons, 2017).

Notes: the full version of Murphy, S. F. (2017) The National Citizen Service and the “Magic Money Tree” Youth & Policy 9 October 2017

Check out my ORCID research site for further publications and research.

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