A new law requiring every local authority to draw up a plan to develop provision for young people is being planned by Labour as part of a new deal for Britain's youth.
The plan, which has been drawn up by shadow education minister Peter Kilfoyle, would oblige local authorities to deliver statutory minimum services for young people to deliver a range of facilities and services, ranging from table tennis to counselling, literacy courses, and even housing.
New legislation would also close off a loophole in the law which for more than 50 years has enabled councils to avoid providing more than token youth services. The 1944 Education Act and its successors only require them to ensure adequate provision, leaving them to decide what that means. Under the Labour plan, currently being considered by Labour's education and employment spokesman David Blunkett, each authority will have to draw up a development plan to secure "a sufficiency of provision".
Youth service leaders say that the proposed change would prepare the way for the government to define a statutory minimum of services.
The change was first proposed 15 years ago in the mammoth Thompson report on the youth service, commissioned by Mrs Thatcher's education secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, who shelved its findings.
Alan Thompson, the retired Whitehall deputy secretary who headed the study, reported that there was unacceptably wide disparity in local provision for young people. Since then, while youth workers report that there is a heavily increased need for their services to help counter growing deprivation, most authorities have cut back on youth spending in order to protect their school budgets. Although the Department for Education and Employment claims that the most recent figure of total youth service spending, Pounds 281million, means there has been no reduction in real terms, over wide stretches of the country LEA youth provision has now virtually ceased to exist.
The proposals are being seen as a starting point from which a Labour government would, as resources became available, progressively lay down a whole range of services and facilities to be provided. Mr Kilfoyle says that he would like to see Labour eventually offering all young people a guaranteed entitlement to a range of services, including counselling and education. "My proposals should be seen together with plans we have already announced, like those for training for work and millennium volunteers, as part of an overall package for young people," he says Tom Wiley, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, who is a former HM inspector of the youth service, told The TES: "The changes Mr Kilfoyle is proposing are a major step towards ending the position of the service as the Cinderella of education. The DFEE figures conceal a big drop in local authority spending because they include money provided by the Government under various short-term programmes and projects. "