A new campaign to improve the youth service, backed by an unprecedented grouping of all the major statutory and voluntary youth work bodies in the United Kingdom, was launched this week.
The campaign, Agenda for a Generation, supported by the United Kingdom Youth Work Alliance and led by the National Youth Agency, wants legislation to make it a duty for local authorities to provide a "sufficient" youth service - a measure it believes will guarantee consistent financial support.
The campaign also wants Government departments to plan for the needs of young people and proposes a role for the youth service in delivering national programmes, for example in employment training and health. The campaign's first activity will be to lobby the main party conferences this autumn.
Tom Wylie, the new chief executive of the NYA, said: "I see youth work as a predominantly educational activity." With 600,000 young people unemployed and lacking skills to get them into the world of work, he said, the youth service has an important part to play.
Concerns about drug abuse, sexual exploitation and underachievement among African-Caribbean boys are rising, said Mr Wylie.
The campaign wants every local authority to write its own statement of purpose and curriculum for the youth service, including an outline of the partnership arrangements it plans with voluntary groups.
Mr Wylie admitted that this could mean cutting back in some areas to concentrate on particular groups in need. One of his main concerns is disaffected adolescent boys of around 16, living on urban housing estates.
"We've got to strengthen their literacy and oracy skills, using IT to reclaim them for the educational process. I don't think Sir Ron Dearing's 16-19 review addressed this group," he said.
"We're working with the Better English Campaign to produce a curriculum to improve oracy and literacy skills for the world of work, and we are looking for ways of taking hobbies and interests such as computers as a basis for learning. I have been struck by the power of the book Trainspotting with young people. It's written in the densest Edinburgh dialect and yet it is being read by those who wouldn't normally pick up a book at all."