Head of David Cameron’s legacy project paid £165,000 despite pay review pledge

The chief executive of David Cameron’s legacy project for young people has continued to be paid his £165,000 salary, despite committing to review his pay before the charity had more than 60 per cent of its funding cut.

David Cohen  www.independent.co.uk

Mark Gifford was appointed head of the National Citizen Service Trust in early 2020 when almost £160m of taxpayers’ money was lavished on the NCS by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

But a government review has since shrunk their budget to less than £60m a year following an investigation by The Independent that showed the charity was failing to provide value for money.

Mr Gifford had admitted that cuts were needed to make NCS pay for senior executives “better aligned to the third sector” and to “take into account market forces”.

His comments formed part of an investigation by The Independent that revealed that the senior NCS team were being handed six-figure salaries, despite dwindling youth participation in its activities and failing to meet government targets.

But Mr Gifford’s salary – which is set by the NCS Trust Remuneration Committee and on which a government representative sits with a veto – has remained at £150,000, or £165,000 including benefits. Other members of the senior leadership also do not appear to have had their salaries cut.

By way of comparison, the CEO of Oxfam received a salary of £120,000, £30,000 less than Mr Giffford, despite managing an annual income more than six times higher than the NCS and a staff of 3,886, 16 times that of the NCS.

Mr Gifford also earned more than Save the Children’s boss, who is on £143,000 and who manages a budget and staff four times larger. The Red Cross CEO earned more, and was paid £181,000, but that is to manage a budget four times the size of NCS and with a headcount 14 times the size.

The National Citizen Service was set up in 2011 by Cameron to run summer and autumn residential programmes for 16 and 17-year-olds to help them become better citizens.

The latest annual accounts reflect that no residentials were held during the year ending March 2022 and that the programme migrated online and to “non-residential face-to-face” experiences.

For the programmes that were held, the NCS failed to meet its basic “customer experience” target score of 55, achieving a disappointing “net promoter score” of 50, according to the annual accounts.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport last year ripped up the NCS grant, cutting its budget to £57million a year for three years – less than one-third of its size when Cameron had “stuffed NCS’s mouth full of gold”, as one Whitehall whistleblower had put it.

The department criticised the scheme for being too middle-class and demanded it is more “cost-effective” and reach more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. At the time, NCS swallowed up 90 per cent of the government’s youth budget.

A former board member had described the programme to The Independent as little more than “a holiday camp for mostly middle-class kids”.

But Mr Gifford’s salary has remained higher than that of the prime minister and of Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary responsible for the NCS grant, whose salary totals £121,326.

Five of the six other members of the NCS senior leadership team also have packages that exceed the minister’s, according to the latest annual accounts, with NCS public affairs advisor Miriam Jordan Keane on a hefty £155,000.

Her senior leader counterparts at charities such as Oxfam were on £98,000 to £100,000, showing just how excessive NCS senior team salaries are and raising questions as to whether the NCS Remuneration Committee is fit for purpose.

Brett Wigdortz, chair of the NCS Trust, defended their pay arrangements and pointed out that their CEO is responsible for [over] £50m of public money a year for delivering youth programmes.

He said: “We understand the challenges, skills and competencies needed to run NCS and we pay our brilliant CEO accordingly while offering the taxpayer outstanding value for money.”

A spokesperson for the NCS said: “The pay and reward policy of NCS Trust is set by the Remuneration Committee, which has a government representative on it with a veto. It was reviewed in May 2022 and November 2022 by senior HR officers.”

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport declined to address our questions as to whether NCS pay was value for taxpayers’ money but said it had robust processes in place to ensure salary decisions and changes “are proportionate and appropriate”. It added that the NCS has been “carrying out a cost optimisation strategy to reduce and reshape its cost base”.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell MP said: “Ministers should not be playing favourites and the decision by DCMS to seemingly wave through remuneration packages despite reduced budgets without ensuring results and value for money is concerning.

“Ministers are fixating on one programme instead of ensuring the broad range of youth provision we need to open opportunity for young people everywhere.”

Mr Cameron, chair of the NCS Board of Patrons, failed to respond to our questions.

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