The government's National Citizen Service scheme is too expensive and should not be continued in its current form, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.
The final report of the House of Commons education select committee, published today, says the cost of the flagship volunteering programme would outstrip the entire annual spending by local authorities on youth services if just half of all 16-year-olds took part in it.
The scheme will offer thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds the chance to complete summer volunteering placements.
"In a world of less scarce resources, we agree that introduction of the scheme would be a positive development," the report says. "However, given the degree to which youth services are being cut, and in light of our concerns about the scheme's cost and practical implementation, we cannot support the continued development of National Citizen Service in its current form."
The committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Graham Stuart, said that based on the cost per head of the 2011 pilots, it would cost £355m a year to offer the National Citizen Service scheme to half of all school leavers.
"Even allowing for economies of scale, the costs may well outstrip entire annual spending by local authorities on youth services, which totalled £350m in 2009/10," the report says.
It says the 2011 pilots will cost about £1,182 per person, compared with the £1,228 per person spent by the German government to provide a whole year's work-based volunteering programme.
"We do not see how the government can justify spending the same amount for only six weeks of National Citizen Service," the report says.
The report says that Paul Oginsky, the government's adviser on the programme, is sceptical about the government's plan to charge some young people to take part in the programme.
It says that both Oginsky and Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, had told the committee that funds for the scheme might have to be found from non-statutory sources.
"We are concerned that this may mean, contrary to the government's assurances, that National Citizen Service might end up in direct competition with other youth services for funds at local authority level."
The report recommends that the scheme should be "significantly amended" to become a form of accreditation for existing programmes.
Tim Loughton, the children's minister, issued a statement that said: "I am disappointed that the select committee has sought to undermine National Citizen Service pilots before they have even got off the ground.
"All NCS money is additional money for youth services, not an alternative to them."