DfE passes NCS funding buck to BIS

The National Careers Service (NCS) figures in many of the hopes for improved information, advice and guidance (IAG). However, its source of funding recently underwent a key change, as Freddie Whittaker reports.

Department for Education (DfE) responsibility for NCS funding was shifted to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) just months before the service plays a bigger role in schools.

The NCS currently provides phone and web services to anyone aged 13 and over. Only those aged 19-plus can access its face-to-face service. But new statutory guidance for schools, issued in April, says the NCS will “expand its offer to schools and colleges” from next month.

However, while the DfE dished out £4.7m last year to the NCS — it gave nothing this year. The DfE said it previously paid for the helpline and webchat service for young people and “this formed in effect a ring-fenced budget within the NCS”. Shifting the budget to BIS, it said, “provides some flexibility in the way NCS is able to develop online and telephone advice for young people”.

However, with BIS picking up a £94m bill for the NCS this year, up £10m on last year, a DfE spokesperson was unable to identify any of its funds that had been transferred to BIS along with the added responsibility. And a spokesperson for BIS was also unable to confirm if it had received any additional funding — from DfE or elsewhere — to cover any of its extra £10m for NCS. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) pays £14m and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) £1.5m of the NCS £109m budget for 2014/15. Last year’s budget of £106m was made up of £84.4m from BIS, £14m from MoJ, £1.5m from DWP, and DfE’s contribution.

The funding of NCS has previously proved a bone of contention with National Careers Council (NCC) members Professor Tony Watts and Heather Jackson resigning from the body last year. They walked out in a row over the way an NCC report covered NCS funding, arguing it “ducked the issue” of BIS paying for youngsters’ careers guidance, allowing DfE to “escape its responsibilities”.

Funding for the NCS was also one of the main points in the Association of Colleges’ (AoC) Careers Guidance: Guaranteed campaign with chief executive Martin Doel, writing in FE Week last year: “Let’s be frank about this, the DfE contribution to the NCS has been extremely disappointing.” And in light of the funding shift, Joy Mercer, AoC education policy director, said: “We feel the DfE should contribute equally [with BIS] both in terms of money and engagement.”

Former Skills Minister Matthew Hancock was also grilled about the issue last year by the education select committee, including chair Graham Stuart. At the time, Mr Stuart said: “Will the minister reassure us that the DfE is committed tosupporting the work of the NCS properly? Will the DfE realise the opportunity that the NCS provides to ensure that we have an all-ages, competent, re-professionalised careers service?”

FE Week contacted Mr Stuart’s office, but was told he had no comment on the latest development.