Speaking at the Council of Local Education Authorities conference, Tom Wylie said: "We need a new agenda for a generation ... What altruism has long urged, self-interest now compels: we need urgently to close the gaps of underachievement, to bring many more young people into the social, political, economic and educational mainstream.
"We can, as a nation, continue in an ad hoc way, producing young consumers rather than active citizens. We can endure the regular 'slow riot' of violence, drug misuse or adolescent criminality. Or we can embrace this agenda of social renewal: the achieving school; the empowering youth group; the inclusive community; the enabling state."
The guarantee to young people might include the provision of a safe, warm, well-equipped meeting place within a bus ride; easy access to reliable information, planned opportunities to develop personal skills, opportunitites to participate each month in drama, music, sport and voluntary action, a key worker to give support in a crisis, and a chance to make decisions about the local youth project and have a say on services which affect them through a youth forum.
Mr Wylie said youth work should be more active in programmes which strengthened social inclusion and could include study support for those at risk of school failure, activities to discourage crime and programmes to encourage effective training or healthy living.
He said youth policy was now dominated by three factors: competitiveness in education and training, leading to the exclusion of some young people; social inclusion at a time when many young people were disaffected from schools, youth unemployment was rising and youth training unpopular; and the democratic deficit whereby 20 per cent of the young electorate were not registered to vote and had little influence over what happened to them. Mr Wylie admitted some features of youth work were not good enough."Youth work is often seen as rather low-level recreational provision or therapeutic conversations carried out in careworn, shabby premises."