Cuts to Essex County Council’s youth service have been approved.

The council’s cabinet gave the green light to stop running services and to train more volunteers instead.

The service’s budget will be slashed from £5million to £2.4million by 2017. It stood at £12million two years ago.

A report approved by cabinet said services run by the council will only be kept where a profit can be made.

Fees are set to rise and schools will be charged £160 for each child referred to a youth adviser.

The decision has already been challenged by the council’s Labour group, which means it will be discussed by a scrutiny committee before it can be rubberstamped.

Julie Young, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said staff were effectively being asked to train volunteers to replace themselves when they are made redundant.

She said: “This is a commercialisation of the youth service. They are only offering services if someone else pays for it.

“We need to focus on high youth unemployment figures, particularly in Tendring, and teen pregnancy rates in Basildon. Young people value the professional service they receive from staff, some of whom have been in post for 30-odd years.

“Volunteers might help out with small youth groups, but I’m not sure there’s a whole host of volunteers out there who have the skills and training to tackle issues such as sexual health or drugs and alcohol.”

It is not known how many staff face the axe, but the authority has set aside £300,000 for redundancy payments.

County Hall has said it will spend £1million next year improving youth service buildings It says about 30 per cent of services are provided by community groups, but it wants to see this rise to 100 per cent by the end of 2015.

Ray Gooding, county councillor responsible for education, has said the changes are needed to allow the service to continue within a reduced budget.