General secretary of CYWU Doug Nicholls said under-spending councils risk the Government's wrath: "pound;513 million was set aside for the service.
Local authorities were asked to submit plans and given targets but spending levels don't get near half that amount," he said.
Pressure for a better service has been created by the recent paper "Every child matters", in which youth work figures highly in plans for an integrated service for young people. "If local authorities don't hit the targets they'll be in trouble," he said. "The Government will intervene."
CYWU wants a code of ethics and the reintroduction of a register of youth workers. "The paper stresses that we need higher standards," he said.
"Currently anyone can set themselves up to practise without a licence."
The union hopes soon to meet Margaret Hodge, minister for children, to press its case.