Michael Gove made the comments during an education select committee meeting about ongoing reforms at the Department for Education.
Asked about his priorities for children, Gove said his top concern was that “every child arrives at and spends their time in school fulfilled, happy and learning”.
“We believe that youth policy is a priority for local government and not central government,” he said.
“We believe that the emphasis that the last government, for example, put on the co-ordination of access to play spaces is a matter that would be better left to local government, than co-ordinated by central government.”
But David Wright, chief executive of the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services, argued that central government must work more closely with local authorities on youth issues, urging Gove not to absolve government from its responsibility to young people.
“There is a vital role for both central and local government in supporting young people; securing a sufficient youth offer has to be a priority for local government but that doesn’t absolve central government of its role,” he said.
“Central government has to set the policy framework that helps inform and shape that local offer. That doesn’t mean prescribing what local authorities do, and can be framed in an ‘expectation or entitlement’ – the things that all our young people should have as they grow from children into successful, independent young adults.”
In December 2011, the government published it’s policy for young people, Positive for Youth, which outlined how “all parts of society can work together in partnership to support families and improve the lives of young people”.
In recent months, youth service leaders have raised concerns about its continued impact.
But Helen Marshall, chief executive of Ambition, called for the government to maintain the principles of the policy.
“The government's strategy, Positive for Youth, made clear its belief that all sections of society need to work together to help young people to flourish and how councils cannot realise this vision on their own,” she said.
“At a time when young people are facing more challenges than ever to gain employment and develop their skills, it is vital that support remains a priority on both a local and national basis, with everyone working together.”
Her call was echoed by Elizabeth Harding, chief executive of the North West Regional Youth Work Unit, who said the announcement clashed with the government’s investment in the Youth Contract and National Citizen Service.
“It’s disappointing that government doesn't appear to value a more co-ordinated approach with local government to join up national policy with local priorities,” she said.