Members of the Community and Youth Workers union have voted overwhelmingly to strike in support of their pay claim.
Around 3,500 members of CYWU were balloted, with almost 90 per cent backing industrial action. This is the first time in the union's 64-year history that the members have prepared to strike over pay.
CYWU general secretary Doug Nicholls said the vote was overwhelming in all 71 local authorities balloted. He felt the chance of CYWU staging selective strikes was "more than likely", preceded by lesser action such as staff refusing to perform extra duties.
The CYWU is writing to around 180 employers to notify them of the vote. In October, when the two sides last met, employers suggested a rise of around 3 per cent. Things were then put on hold while the employers' body was reconstituted.
"Feelings were running high and that delay exacerbated the situation," said Mr Nicholls.
He describes 3 per cent as "insulting" and said that members were entitled to a better deal since the Government had provided 5.9 per cent extra this financial year for youth and community services.
The two sides of the Joint Negotiating Committee are due to resume talks next month but a date has yet to be confirmed. By then, some industrial action is likely.
Birmingham city councillor Les Lawrence, chairman of the JNC employers'
side, said: "It's always sad that an organisation has to resort to industrial action when, to all intents and purposes, normal routes of discussion have not been exhausted.
"There are three main parties, the CYWU, Unison, and NUTNatfhe. Given that one has voted for unilateral action, that makes the situation more difficult.
"We now have to settle a pay dispute that backdates to September 2003.
"We're nearly in the new financial year, and with the deputy prime minister threatening to cap any local authority where council tax rises are more than 5 per cent, you can imagine the rough ground we're having to work on."