Angry youth workers set their own agenda
Despite continuing claims from education ministers about the importance of the service in helping alienated young people, youth workers are still awaiting a Government paper due last year.
The quality of youth services varies widely, due partly to their insecure legal status. Labour ordered an audit soon after gaining power in May 1997. Completed last year by the National Youth Agency, this uncovered dramatic variations in spending of up to pound;274 per teenager per year.
The gap was underlined last week by the publication of the latest raft of inspection reports by the Office for Standards in Education, which highly praised Sheffield's youth service, but condemned that in Warwickshire as failing to give value for money, despite spending barely half as much per teenager.
Tim Burke, spokesman for the NYA, said: "We've had the diagnosis, but we've been kept waiting and waiting. It's very frustrating. People want to rise to the challenge but the danger is that all that enthusiasm will be dissipated."
The agency and the Local Government Association will co-host a conference in London next Thursday for 200 senior youth work officials.
It will launch Modern Services for Young People, its blueprint for building a stronger service. The conference is likely to demand that youth work be put on a statutory footing. At present, councils are obliged only to provide an "adequacy" of service - and it has borne the brunt of spending cuts.
Youth workers are seen as key to tackling social exclusion because they can reach young people who have dropped out of education. The government report has been delayed because it links into wider plans to reform post-16 education and the careers service.
George Mudie was the most recent minister to voice support for youth workers. Addressing their union in May - the first minister to do so - he criticised underspending and said that those local authorities and colleges which failed to involve youth workers would be unable to meet Labour's social exclusion targets.
Tom Wylie, NYA chief executive, said this week: "We can't afford to wait any longer - youth services will use this event to set their own agenda for change."