The umbrella body for local authorities has called on the government to redirect funding from the National Citizen Service to local youth clubs and services because of the lack of eligible youngsters taking part in the scheme.
The Local Government Association said today that, although the NCS received £634m between 2014/15 and 2017/18 – equivalent to 95 per cent of the government’s youth services budget – councils were being forced to cut funding for local youth services.
Council spending on local youth services has fallen by about 40 per cent, from £650m in 2010/11 to just £390m in 2016/17, the LGA said.
The LGA said that these funding cuts led to the loss of more than 600 youth centres and 139,000 youth service places in the UK between 2012 and 2016.
In comparison, the LGA said, only 93,000 young people took part in the NCS in 2016 – just 12 per cent of those eligible. This fell to 4 per cent of eligible youngsters in some parts of the country, according to the LGA.
Last year, the government reduced its participation targets for the NCS in 2020/21 by 100,000 places – to 247,000 – after the National Audit Office warned that the target would be missed by 40 per cent at existing growth rates.
The NAO also said last year that the NCS cost £1,863 per participant and was due to exceed its £1.7bn budget if costs did not fall by 30 per cent.
The relatively low participation rate in the NCS’s programmes has prompted the LGA to call for some of the NCS’s funding to be transferred to councils over the next two years to help counteract spending cuts in local youth services.
The LGA said that the NCS money could be used to provide year-round youth services, rather than just a four-week summer youth programme.
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: "A time-limited programme of work cannot provide the trusted, longer-term relationships that are a valued element of youth work, and which are needed by some young people to develop the self-esteem, confidence and skills to take part in such programmes.
"Councils have been forced to cut important services for thousands of young residents in recent years as a result of increasingly squeezed budgets, so it is wrong that nearly all of the government’s funding for youth services is being spent on a very short programme that attracts only a small number of participants."
A statement from the NCS said that more than 400,000 16 to 17-year-olds had participated in the NCS to date, "with tens of thousands more expected by the end of the year", which it said made the NCS "the fastest-growing youth movement in the UK for over a century".
The statement said: "Both the NCS and local youth services provide an invaluable service to young people.
"It is unhelpful to compare the NCS with other local youth services, because it is a bespoke programme established with the specific goal of helping to build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society.
"By bringing together young people from different backgrounds for a unique shared experience, the NCS helps them to become better individuals and, in turn, better citizens."