The government is to expand the number of places it offers on its National Citizen Service programme for young people to 300,000 by 2019/2020, despite ongoing problems attracting participants.
In his speech in parliament today, the Chancellor, George Osborne said: "Today, 80,000 students go on National Citizen Service. By the end of the decade we will fund places for 300,000 students on this life-changing programme pioneered by my Right Honourable Friend, the Prime Minister."
The government-funded scheme for 16 and 17-year-olds gives young people the opportunity take part in residential activities and community work. Providers, mainly from the third sector, bid to deliver the programme in different parts of the country. In 2014/2015, the Cabinet Office spent £130.4m on the programme, its accounts show.
The Cabinet Office said in a statement today that the expansion of the NCS would support "hundreds of charities and third sector providers". The Chancellor did not say how much the expansion would cost.
The NCS has consistently failed to hit its participation targets since it was launched in 2010. Almost 58,000 of the 80,000 places offered in 2014/2015 were filled. In 2013/14, fewer than 40,000 young people took part, against a target of 50,000.
Sophie Livingstone, co-chair of Generation Change, a partnership of the UK's leading youth social action organisations, and chief executive of the youth charity City Year UK, said in a statement: "The Chancellor’s commitment to extra funding for National Citizen Service makes a clear statement about the value of youth social action at a time of cuts to other services.
"However, the government must now explain how this investment will sit alongside severe budget reductions at the Office for Civil Society, and no announcement on funding for the wider youth social action sector."
Barney Mynott, head of public affairs at local infrastructure body Navca, said: "While the NCS does good work, we question whether a national scheme like this is the most effective way of investing to foster volunteering and social action among young people.
"It should also be noted that the scheme is being expanded despite not hitting its target of recruiting 80,000 young people last year, falling 22,000 short."