THE Government must do more to overhaul youth services so councils can tackle youth unemployment, a leading body has said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says almost every young person could be in work or learning by 2020 if councils were given more responsibility to run job schemes.

The LGA said councils in England and Wales had overseen a 44 per cent drop in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education or work over the past five years, compared with 7.5 per cent for schemes run by central Government for 19 to 24-year-olds.

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It said council-led versions of the national Youth Contract have helped a much bigger proportion of youngsters.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Local government has high ambitions for our young people and in areas where councils have taken the lead and driven forward schemes to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, we are seeing fantastic results with the number of teenagers disengaging now at an all-time low.

"The Government needs to allow councils and their local partners to fully take the lead and develop quality services that are built around the needs of young people and employers rather than complex national bureaucracies.

"As the most trusted part of the public sector, councils are best placed to build upon current innovation, integrate and transform services to ensure every child receives a fair chance in life.

"Across the country, we are seeing dramatic falls in the number of people not in employment, education or training where councils are seizing the agenda, but in the face of bureaucratic burdens councils cannot sustain this forever.

"Local solutions are clearly proving to be the answer and the Government needs to act now to allow councils to drive it forward and help all young people reach their potential."

In a separate report, Saga challenged the "myth" that older people were denying jobs to youngsters by working later in life.

A study found older people spent more of their income on services and goods, helping to create jobs.

Lance Batchelor, Saga chief executive, said: "Those that say that by working longer, older people squeeze the young out of work, are peddling a dangerous myth and one that sets up a wholly unfair inter-generational antagonism.

"The fact that retirement is more a process than an event is something to be celebrated.

"Older people provide a great deal of life and work experience and the fact that they choose to work for longer, either full or part time, is something that society ought to celebrate not vilify."