THE Government has cut youth work funding for the fifth successive year, renewing calls for statutory funding and a proper policy for the sector.
The Government's spending allocation for education, announced in December, cut the youth and community work budget by pound;92 million to pound;624m for 1999-2000, the fifth successive decrease and a fall of pound;250 m since 1995.
Although youth service funding is notoriously difficult to calculate, several studies have shown that the sector has suffered financially. One found that spending in London had fallen by 15 per cent over the past five years, while the National Youth Agency's own figures suggest that the Government has overestimated actual spending by pound;30 million.
Youth service leaders say arguments over who is to blame for the drop in funding disguises a crisis.
Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers Union, said: "As a result of this unnecessary squabble, young people are suffering and the shared government and local authority plans for social inclusion and lifelong learning are being set back every day."
A nationwide audit conducted by the National Youth Agency last year revealed a huge disparity in provision. It showed that the number of young people per youth worker varied from one for every 266 to one for every 4,900.
Local authority spending ranged from 4.5 per cent of the education budget to just 0.36 per cent - the average was 1.3 per cent.
Tom Wylie, NYA chief executive, said that the lack of a basic framework was producing "wild variations in provision quite beyond what we would expect from local circumstances".
He added: "Youth work is a frontline service at the heart of promoting achievement and social inclusion of disadvantaged young people. Ministers have given youth work warm words about its role but these are not compatible with a reducing resource base. When are they going to match their warm words with a properly resourced framework for development?" In Northumberland, one of Britain's lowest spending authorities, an Office for Standards in Education report published last month found that while the central management of the service was "extremely efficient", diminishing budgets had "taken their toll" and some youth workers were spending lots of time preparing bids for funding from other sources.
It said: "The low budget ... is scarcely adequate for the task to hand, (and) has had a negative impact on the service's ability to function as effectively as it could."
Lifelong learning minister George Mudie justified the reduction saying that it reflected falling spending by local authorities.
A postponed consultation paper on the service is now expected around Easter. Meanwhile, ministers are asking local authorities to plough on with limited resources.
Mr Mudie told Parliament last month: "I urge local authorities, notwithstanding their wish for statutory backing, to get on with the job even before the publication of the consultation."