PM unveils national service scheme for 16-year-olds

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David Cameron expanded on his vision for the Big Society yesterday when he outlined plans for a National Citizen Service (NCS) for all 16-year-olds in England, as voluntary sector leaders warned they faced major cuts in their budgets for many existing youth programmes.

Under the proposals, which the Prime Minister launched at a Downing Street reception, young people will be encouraged to volunteer for eight weeks in the summer after finishing their GCSEs. The first 10,000 children will begin taking part next year, completing a three-stage programme which will include 10 nights away from home.

Mr Cameron paid tribute to the present generation, saying it was "passionate and idealistic", but said "too many teenagers appear lost and feel their lives lack shape and direction". He added: "National Citizen Service will help change that. A kind of non-military national service, it's going to mix young people from different backgrounds in a way that doesn't happen right now." It was originally estimated that the first year of the service, which was a key Tory election pledge endorsed by the actor Sir Michael Caine, would cost £13m with a further £37m to be made available when the scheme was rolled out.

Yesterday the Cabinet Office insisted the project would be subject to the current spending review, but would go ahead. However, charity leaders said the amount of money made available will be dwarfed by the scale of cuts to projects when local authorities slash grants to meet new budget targets.

There were also rumblings of discontent among charities not involved in the two-year pilot programme for the scheme set up by the charity Challenge Network. Stephen Bubb, head of Acevo, which represents leaders in the voluntary sector, said he feared the camps could be colonised by children of middle class parents, while less affluent children see financial support crumble.