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Abolition threat to youth work quango

The National Youth Agency, a quango regarded as increasingly troublesome by education ministers, is likely to be torn apart next year.

Proposals to remove the NYA's quango status and slash its Government grant have been put out for consultation this week - at a time when local youth work budgets are under increasing threat and the Labour party is keen to develop a strong under-24s policy.

If the recommendations were put into action the agency would be turned into a charity, with Government finance supporting only its much-praised information and publications service. It would also be expected to become involved in regional youth work, with funding coming from local authority associations, but would entirely lose its role in accreditation and development of training for youth workers by March 1996.

The recommendations in the Department for Education Policy Review's interim report have come as a shock to the sector, fuelling suspicions that the NYA's fate may have been decided by Government officials who dislike what they regarded as its outspoken and critical approach. Another quango, the Health Education Authority, was abolished in all but name this week when its budget was cut from Pounds 36m to Pounds 250,000 after a stormy relationship with the Government.

One of the most obvious examples of a clash with the DFE came last year when officials ordered the NYA to disband its working party to define an "adequate" youth service or risk losing its funding. The report was eventually completed by the Community and Youth Workers' Union.

Director Janet Paraskeva has also earned the ire of officials for her willingness to campaign for a properly-funded youth service with a more secure statutory footing. Youth workers point out that the NYA had a particularly difficult brief, attempting to campaign for the service at a time of cuts, and one result appears to have been a constant series of reviews of its work and organisation since it was set up three years ago.

Ms Paraskeva, director of the NYA, said: "I find it very surprising that officials are recommending to ministers the effective removal of the national voice for youth work at a time when the Labour party is setting up its own policy and considering the establishment of a minister for youth and when young people need a national voice on their behalf more than ever before."

She has been conducting emergency meetings among the staff of the Leicester-based agency and attempting to find ways in which a nationally useful and campaigning role could be salvaged for the Agency if the proposals are accepted by Ministers.

However, it seems likely that the recommendations will meet with widespread disapproval during the consultation period. The local authority associations are likely to be concerned about the two possible funding methods suggested for regional youth work, either through a mechanism for top-slicing grant from the overall local authority pot, or through Grants for Education Support and Training.

Both could leave local authorities effectively picking up the tab for regional youth work, which at present costs the Department for Education Pounds 1.2million a year, around half of its running costs.

The report says a new approach is necessary because of rapid change in the sector. Consultation found the Agency's strengths were its publications, information and library services, its Information Shops, equal opportunities work and conferences.

Weaknesses were seen as curriculum work, remoteness, lack of commitment to the voluntary sector and its role in professional endorsement of qualifications.

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