Massive differences in spending on council-run youth services have been revealed by a national survey.
Expenditure varied from Pounds 18 to Pounds 292 per teenager, with an average outlay of 1.2 per cent of local authorities' education budget. Just 13 spend more than 2 per cent.
The report was commissioned from the National Youth Agency last year by the then education minister Kim Howells.
Tom Wylie, the agency's chief executive, said: "After years of neglect from central Government, England's local authority youth- workers now have their own Domesday Book I the variability in local provision is way beyond that justified by different local circumstances.
"Surely something is wrong when in some areas the ratio of youth workers to young people is 1:266 and in others it is 1:4,900 ?" Youth service total net expenditure for 1996-7 was Pounds 239 million. Funding to youth work from outside local authority budgets totalled Pounds 22m.
Figures suggest that more than 600,000 11 to 25-year-olds use local authority youth services every week.
The report criticises the lack of a national definition of what is an "acceptable" level of youth service. It concludes: "As it stands, the provision within a local authority may be of high quality but not in sufficient quantity to provide adequately for the numbers of young people within its target range."
The survey found that of the 127 authorities, 76 spent less than 2 per cent of the total youth service expenditure on training.
The report says: "Much of the income is short-term and not intended to sustain the basic youth service infrastructure."
Only 39 authorities had youth service schemes designed to help prevent pupils from being excluded from school.
The youth services did educate young people about the dangers of drugs and crime, nearly all having an education policy for both.
Yet only 69 had a policy on how to divert young people from crime - suggesting more work could be done on prevention.
The report refers to "significant gaps" and "missed opportunities", stating as an example: "The untapped potential for a youth work contribution to tackling youth issues on estates - which could be funded from housing revenue offset by the reduction in vandalism costs."
Auditors refer to good practice with limited funds, but conclude:
"Long-term sustainability and modernisation requires a partnership between local and national government."