The fate of many projects working with young people is in the balance, just as their value in fighting crime is being recognised.
Spending on the youth service in London has been cut by more than 16 per cent during the past four years, according to figures released today.
The gloomy picture in the capital comes at a time of rising concern about the fate of the youth service as local authorities finalise next year's budgets. The fate of the sector in London is believed to be broadly mirrored throughout the country, with the most recent survey by the National Youth Agency finding many authorities opting for standstill budgets.
The research by London Youth Matters, an umbrella group of more than 50 organisations and charities, discovered that in the current financial year 15 boroughs out of the 31 surveyed suffered reductions in real terms to their youth service budgets totalling Pounds 3.25 million - double the total of increases in 13 boroughs. Another three reported standstill budgets. Cuts ranged up to almost 40 per cent, although one borough raised spending by 34 per cent.
A survey of the finances of 14 boroughs - around half - since the start of the decade showed that almost three-quarters had suffered a reduction in youth service budgets during that period. Half of them suffered losses of more than 20 per cent. Just four councils reported that funds for youth work had increased.
"Taking these 14 boroughs as a whole, the loss over the period amounts to Pounds 4.19m or 16.63 per cent. Assuming these boroughs to be typical, this would represent a loss to the London youth service of Pounds 9.6m in real terms over the past four years," says the report.
The report stresses that some changes are due to different ways of organising finances this year, but adds: "The real measure is the sum available for face-to-face work with young people. There is no doubt that this has decreased to a greater extent than indicated by the above figures but on the basis of the information obtained this cannot be quantified."
On average, the youth service budget is 0.82 per cent of total council spending in 31 boroughs - costing around Pounds 38.70 per year for each eligible 11 to 25-year-old. Since around a quarter actually use the service, the report suggests the average cost is Pounds 150 per year for each user. "Anyone who knows the quality and range of work undertaken will recognise that this is remarkable value for money," it says.
Graham McDonald, director of London Youth Matters, said the organisation had heard of more cuts in the capital's youth budgets since the survey had been collated. He added: "It will put more pressure on the voluntary services and those which help young people get through the period in their lives . . . and get the benefit from a full range of educational facilities and youth services helping with empowerment and self-esteem.
"It's a question of investment in the future. It's very short-sighted to cut back on the seed corn. By not investing in young people, the decision-makers are wasting the potential of the future and we all fail to benefit."
He said the statutory basis on which the youth service was funded needed to be strengthened.