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National service could boost job chances, Conservatives say

Young people who take up a full-time armed forces placement under a national service scheme could get better work or study opportunities as a result, the Conservatives have said.

They suggest it could lead to fast-tracked interviews for graduate schemes in the civil service or private sector.

Rishi Sunak said national service in other countries showed “just how fulfilling it is for young people”.

Opposition parties have described the initiative as a “gimmick”.

The Conservatives have pledged that, if they win the general election, 18-year-olds will have to take part in a scheme involving military or non-military service.

Additional ideas listed by the party as possible incentives to apply for the 30,000 military places in the scheme are highlighting national service on Ucas applications for universities and apprenticeships, and encouraging employers to consider those who complete the placement during job applications.

In a post on X, Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, a former RAF officer, appeared to distance himself from the policy, suggesting it had been “developed by a political adviser or advisers and sprung on candidates, some of whom are relevant ministers”.

Under national service from 1947 to 1960, young men aged between 17 and 21 had to serve in the armed forces for 18 months – but it did not apply in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives say the royal commission would look at the issue.

Last week – a day after the election was called – Defence Minister Andrew Murrison told MPs there were no plans to reintroduce “any form of national service” and warned that, if national service military recruits were kept in separate units, “it would be difficult to find a proper and meaningful role for them”.

But the prime minister said studies in Norway and Israel had demonstrated the benefits of national service schemes.

“We want to make sure Britain’s future generations can get the most out of national service, that’s why we’re looking into ways it can open doors they wouldn’t otherwise get in work or education.

“Only the Conservatives will take the bold action required to deliver a secure future for the next generation.”

The party has said a royal commission would look at the details, if it wins the 4 July poll.

Campaigning in West Sussex, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the scheme as a “plan for a teenage Dad’s Army” and “a sign of desperation”.

He also criticised the Conservative proposal to fund it “by cancelling levelling up and with money from tax avoidance that we would use to invest in our NHS”.

‘Unstable world’

Labour questioned how the Ministry of Defence would fund 30,000 new beds for the scheme – and pointed to cuts in the funding of the volunteer National Citizen Service in 2022 when Mr Sunak was chancellor, claiming the policy was “unravelling by the minute”.

“What were the flaws in that model of youth service which made it a bad use of money, that have been corrected in the new plan proposed this week?” a Labour spokesperson said.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan blamed budget cuts on the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and said the royal commission would consider the accommodation issues.

She added that the national service scheme would not be implemented in full until the end of the next parliament.

“The world is a very unstable and not a reassuring place at all. We need our young people to understand and be part of our communities and our incredible country that is the UK,” she said.

“But also making sure that they have the skills and resilience because we need a secure future for our country, because the world is not a safe place. And freedom does not come for free.”

On Sunday, Home Secretary James Cleverly ruled out criminal sanctions for teenagers who refused to participate in any part of the scheme, saying: “There’s no-one going to jail over this.”

But on Sky News, Ms Trevelyan suggested that employment prospects could be affected.

“Employers would be clear that they would look to see what you had done. This would become part of the normal toolkit that young people would present as they go through their careers,” she said.

Asked on Times Radio whether parents would face prosecution if their 18-year-olds refuse to sign up, she replied: “I’m not going to write the detailed policy now. That’s what a royal commission programme of works will be for.”