Citizen Service 'hopes for 10,000 participants'
Up to 10,000 teenagers in England will take part in the National Citizen Service this summer, the government has said.
Sixteen-year-olds will complete a two-week residential course before working on a project in their communities.
The idea is a key part of David Cameron's Big Society agenda and the PM has said it will help tackle the "tragic waste of potential" in the UK.
But critics have suggested the scheme is a cover for cuts in youth services.
Twelve organisations - including The Prince's Trust and The National Young Volunteers' Service - have been chosen to run this year's citizen service pilot projects.
The government says it is aiming for 10,000 participants this summer. It says there are still some places available, but has not said how many.
Helping the elderly
All of the organisations will stick to a similar structure regardless of where in England they are operating.
Participants - who will have recently completed their GCSEs - will spend two weeks away from home taking part in team-building activities and challenges like mountaineering, canoeing and abseiling.
On their return they will spend another week devising a community project in consultation with people living in their area.
After that, the teenagers must put in at least 30 hours over the course of the next three to four weeks to deliver those projects.
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, which is overseeing the scheme, said the choice of project would be up to the young people themselves, but it could, for example, involve working with the elderly or improving an aspect of their local environment.
She said the idea was to bring together teenagers from a range of backgrounds and inspire a new generation of more engaged and active citizens.
But a number of unions, including Unite and Unison, say the scheme is being used to distract attention from cuts in funding being made to youth services.
Dr Andrew Mycock, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Huddersfield, agreed, telling the BBC News website: "I'm still uncertain about what the actual purpose of this is."
"They are cutting budgets for schemes that are proven to work and directing money to one that's wholly unproven.
"I think the idea behind this strongly links to Cameron's own background. He was in the air cadets at Eton and he thinks, 'It did me some good, so it'll be good for everyone else,' but there's a flawed logic in that.
"A lot of the communities he's talking about accessing are deprived and socially excluded. The idea of helping them is laudable, but it's not going to be possible to turn around a lifetime of poverty with a six-week programme - it needs a much more long-term approach."
The cost of taking part in the citizen service varies from scheme to scheme. Some projects are free, while others are charging up to £95, although there will be some means-testing.
Nevertheless, Dr Mycock said any fee would put off some potential applicants.
The government says it hopes to expand the citizen service next year to include up to 30,000 young people.