A private provider of international volunteering trips is considering legal action against the government over plans to expand its International Citizen Service.
The government plans to offer up to 7,000 subsided overseas volunteering placements to young adults aged between 18 and 22-years-olds over the next three years. The government subsidy will cover between 50 and 100 per cent of the placements, depending on family income.
More than 500 young adults from a variety of backgrounds took part in the pilot scheme last year.
Peter Slowe, managing director of Projects Abroad, said the programme would take business away from companies offering overseas placements. "Why is the government planning to interfere in this way in a thriving competitive sector that is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises?"
"The government says it is committed to stimulating growth among SMEs to generate jobs and then uses public funds to compete with SMEs in our sector."
Slowe, a former economic policy adviser to Tony Blair, added that Projects Abroad had instructed its lawyers to investigate the legality of the subsidised places under EU regulations.
But Rachel Collinson, sales and marketing manager at Raleigh International, an overseas volunteering charity, said it supported the government investment in the International Citizen Service programme. "We believe that the government scheme offers a unique position," she said. "There’s room in the market to encourage a greater diversity of young people to get involved in sustainable development programmes abroad."
A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development, which is funding International Citizen Service, issued a statement that said: "Encouraging and supporting greater social action is one of the coalition government’s top priorities. The International Citizen Service is one of the many ways that the coalition government is achieving this aim."