15 JANUARY 1977, Page 3

Political Commentary

Neglected springboard

John Grigg Suggesting good ideas for Jubilee year is becoming a national sport, and in the Sunday Telegraph Brian Roberts has proposed (9 January) a National Youth Service, under Prince Charles's patronage, to give 'schooland college-leavers' a chance to use 'their enormous reserve of talent, goodwill, energy and ambition,' and 'to re-kindle that sense of unity, overriding class and other divisions, which is so lamentably lacking in Our nation today.' The idea is excellent, but it seems a little odd that Mr Roberts did not mention Community Service Volunteers, an organisation already in being, which only needs to be developed and expanded to tnake his proposal a reality. CSV was founded in 1962 by Alec biekson, as a home-front analogue to his atlier creation, Voluntary Service Overseas If.v SO), which largely inspired President ennedy's initiative in founding the Peace `-,orPs. Dr Dickson is still too little appreciated in his own country as a social originator and pioneer. Nobody, perhaps, s.Ince Baden-powell has shown a more ilnaginative understanding of the needs and Potentialities of young people, and last week he described them, in a powerful sPeech at the Royal Commonwealth Society, 'our basic natural resource' which we 'vere still grossly neglecting. The ordinary work of CSV has been to DI,ace volunteers, at least 90 per cent of °n1 have been in the age-group seventeen .4) twenty-one, in a wide range of projects of value to the community. The projects them,seilves have given the volunteers board and p"ging, and pocket money of £4.50 a week. truitment has been on .a small scale,

"°ugh growing; the current rate is over 2 0

r 00 ' a year. Government grants have „.ecentlY been available to finance the "ersonnel who interview and place the vcilnuteers. , u Rut

Or Dickson sees the present high

11,11,einPloYment among school-leavers as a he opportunity to provide what aanYway regards as desirable, even vital— soft, between the long process of compulap education and the settled pattern of gr,ult lifeThrough the job creation pro the administered, under the auspices of p,4 13ePartment of Employment, by the cranPower Services Commission, CSV has stei-ated over 500 social service jobs in derland, Lanarkshire and Northern ore,a.ncl, This scheme is distinct from bo'InarY CSV work and is called the SpringScheme (Springboard Sunderland, bierIngboard Lanark etc). It has trade union ssing and has so far cost about £1 million ju Public money, because the young people volved in it are paid the rate for the job.

Dr Dickson is not too happy about this aspect of it, because he holds the rather oldfashioned view that voluntary service should be unpaid, or at least underpaid. But surely such a view could only have the effect of discouraging working-class recruitment, and must now be almost equally deterrent to people of middle-class background.

In any case Dr Dickson is a realist who is prepared to subordinate his private feelings to the needs of the hour, and he has adapted CSV to include the Springboard scheme. More than that, in Ally of last year he submitted to the Department of Employment a plan for extending the scheme to provide jobs for up to 5,000 school-leavers. The new Springboard volunteers would have been placed in full-time social service work in their own areas, living at home and receiving the equivalent of unemployment benefit plus £5 a week.

The Department of Employment passed the plan to the Manpower Services Commission, which sent a temporising reply. Since then no more has been heard of it. Meanwhile the Commission's attempt to find jobs in industry for 34,000 schoolleavers has proved a monumental flop. To date, fewer than 7,000 such jobs have been found under the so-called 'work experience' programme, and presumably most of the £19 million allocated for it has not been spent.

To Dr Dickson and his colleagues this failure comes as no surprise. They are convinced that industrialists have no use for school-leavers in anything like the numbers that now have to be dealt with, and will not be bribed by public money to do what they call 'baby-minding.' At the same time there are, according to CSV. enough jobs in the field of social service to employ all the halfmillion young people who leave school every year. Since the figure of unemployed school-leavers was still as high as 51,000 in December, it would seem that the Manpower Services Commission should now give very urgent attention to the CSV plan, before the money voted for the current financial year reverts to the Treasury.

What sort cif work could Springboard volunteers be doing, if the scheme now operating in only a few places were extended to cover the whole country? They could be checking all houses where old people are living alone, and then helping them with their shopping and other problems. They could be employed in special schools to give individual attention to handicapped children. They could work in psychiatric hospitals, helping to link the patients with the outside world and so facilitating their discharge.

Some volunteers have set up a chain of old people's lunch clubs, which they are gradually handing over to the old people to run themselves. Others have established a 'car valeting' service which they run with handicapped people at a training centre. This will soon be self-supporting. In Northern Ireland, Springboard volunteers have started play groups and organised a community print shop. There is obviously enormous scope for the scheme, if only the Government will give it full backing.

But should it be presented to schoolleavers applying for unemployment benefit as an obligatory alternative to idleness, or should the desire to be active and useful, combined with the incentive of an extra £5 a week, be relied upon to do the trick? The first course would change the basic character of the scheme, making it compulsory rather than voluntary. It would be a version of the old Army blackmail: 'Any volunteers ? You, you, you and you.'

There was, indeed, a very great deal to be said for compulsory national service, which (as we now know) the Attlee Government wished to be a permanent feature of British life, but which the Macmillan Government recklessly scrapped. The principle of universality is good in itself, in that it emphasises the debt that every citizen owes to the nation, while helping many people to develop latent gifts and to discover merit in contemporaries from different backgrounds, to whom they might otherwise be hostile. In that sense National Service was a unifying force, and to many it was, undoubtedly, a broadening experience. , Instead of getting rid of it, the Macmillan Government should have expanded it to include a wide range of civilian options, on the French model. It would thus have become a truly universal system, rather than merely a device for raising manpower for the armed forces. The option of military service would have remained, but only as one among many. The voluntary principle would have been preserved, as it were, within the general framework of compulsion.

It is nonsense to say that conscripting the young is alien to the British way of life, because they are, in fact, conscripted for eleven years, from five to sixteen, through the system of public education. If any government were to have the guts, and the means, to restore National Service—using it for civilian as well as military purposes— the process could fairly (and expediently) be described as extending the period of compulsory public education, rather than as bringing back conscription.

But for the time being such a step is probably out of the question on financial, if not on political, grounds. If Jubilee year is to be marked by the establishment of a National Youth Service, it is sensible to assume that recruitment will have to be on the voluntary principle. And Dr Dickson's CSV, more especially his Springboard scheme, points the way.