Local authorities are slashing Connexions budgets by up to 50 per cent, raising fears that young people out of work or education will be left without support.
Evidence gathered by the Institute of Career Guidance and public sector union Unison has revealed that the advice and guidance service is set to lose between 11 per cent and nearly half of its budget, depending on the local area.
Although cuts had been expected, it had been predicted that the service would only have to find efficiency savings of 3.6 per cent, according to the institute. In Norfolk, where the county council has had to find pound;10 million of cuts due to reduced Government grants, the pound;5.6 million Connexions budget is being halved and 65 staff jobs are to be cut. The council said the cuts were "unavoidable".
Bolton Connexions reports cuts equivalent to 30 per cent of its budget, while in Greater Merseyside there are cuts of 15 per cent on top of an earlier budget cut of 24 per cent.
The first cuts are due to come into force in September, just as thousands of 18-year-olds unable to find a place at university are expected to be looking for alternatives.
Deirdre Hughes, president of the institute, said: "We had anticipated cuts to Connexions budgets alongside other public sector services, but the extent to which this vital service has been targeted has taken everyone by surprise.
"Locally and nationally there seems to be little assessment of the impact that cuts to Connexions services are likely to have. They will significantly affect youth unemployment and those currently trying to secure college and higher education places.
"In a period of economic instability, with rising youth unemployment and cuts in further and higher education, the social and economic consequences of any reduction to this service will be very damaging."
An Audit Commission report last month revealed that far more teenagers may spend time out of work or education than had previously been thought: while about one in ten is usually reported to be Neet (not in education, employment or training), the commission found that one in four fell into the catergory at some point, most of these for between a month and six months or longer.
A spokeswoman for the Local Government Association said: "There's no national policy on how councils respond to these cuts, it's for individual local councils to look at the facilities they provide and to decide what their priorities are.
"Councils are well aware of their duty to provide some form of careers guidance and how important it is, particularly at a time when many people are struggling to find work. But we are confident councils are meeting this responsibility."