Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 15:38 UK

Michael Caine backs Tories' youth citizen service plan

"It's already proved a success and I have always thought 'back a winner'"

Veteran actor Sir Michael Caine has backed David Cameron's plans for voluntary "national citizen service" for all 16-year-olds.

Under the proposal, all teenagers of that age would be able to join a two-month summer residential scheme, with outdoor activities and community work.

The Conservative leader said it would be "in the same spirit" as the old military National Service.

Labour and the Lib Dems both questioned how the scheme would be funded.

'Forgotten youngsters'

Joined by Sir Michael at a press conference in central London, Mr Cameron said the proposal would bring together young people from widely different backgrounds, something he said did not take place at present.

Mr Cameron added that the aim was to give young people more shape and purpose in their lives.

"Show me a gang taking drugs and I'll show you a group of people who have nothing to look forward to," he said. "The problem is their lives lack shape."

Sir Michael said it would help youngsters "forgotten in this country".

The image of David Cameron alongside one of this country's best-known and best-loved actors is something I'm sure David Cameron is delighted about
BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg

"There is a very, very hardcore of [young] people we have really got to save," he added.

The actor, who voted for Labour in 1997, later said he would be backing the Conservatives in this election - saying he thought Mr Cameron would "be great" as PM - before saying he did not believe any party should serve more than two consecutive terms in office.

Labour, meanwhile, is highlighting its Youth Community Action scheme, launched last month in five pilot areas, which aims to encourage more 14 to 16-year-olds to do local voluntary work.

The Liberal Democrats are focusing on plans to make it easier for parents to get flexible working hours, and £2.5bn of extra funding to target the one million poorest and most educationally disadvantaged children.

The Tory leader says he has been working on the national citizen service scheme since August 2005, during which time pilot programmes have been run in London, Wales and north-west England.

The Conservatives say they have the backing of the Prince's Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, and if elected, would seek for the scheme to be operated across the UK by independent charities, social enterprises and businesses.

Mr Cameron added that he wanted to give young people "more to aspire to" and help do more to end "the national scandal of all this wasted promise".

'Big Society'

He admitted that his initial proposal for the citizen service scheme was for it to be compulsory, "but youth leaders told me that would have been the kiss of death".

So instead, while the scheme will be available to every 16-year-old in the UK, it will be voluntary.

The Conservatives say the idea forms part of its "Big Society" plans - reducing the size of government to give individuals, charities and other private bodies a larger role in society.

BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said getting the famous actor to share a platform with Mr Cameron was a coup for the party.

The Conservatives are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think they can provide a National Citizen Service on the cheap
Danny Alexander, Lib Dems

"The image of David Cameron alongside one of this country's best-known and best-loved actors is something I'm sure David Cameron is delighted about," she said.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said: "Another glitzy David Cameron launch can't hide the fact that this is yet another spending commitment from the Tories with the flakiest of funding solutions."

He said the Tories had a "plan to deny opportunities to thousands of young people", adding: "They refuse to match Labour's school leavers guarantee of a sixth form, college, training or apprenticeship place for 16 and 17-year-olds.

"The Tories won't protect this area from the immediate cuts they need to find this year."

Lib Dem chief of staff Danny Alexander said: "The Conservatives are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think they can provide a National Citizen Service on the cheap.

"Once again the Tories have made an enormous spending commitment without the foggiest idea of how they're going to pay for it."

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