Magazine article Public Finance

Not Everyone's a Winner

Magazine article Public Finance

Not Everyone's a Winner

Article excerpt

The National Lottery Bill wending its way through Parliament might seem to deal with nothing more than a few technicalities, of interest only to those who actually work in the highly specialised world of lottery funding. The Bill formalises the merger of two nowdefunct lottery funders, the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund, into the Big Lottery Fund, the super-distributor that has been blithely going about its business without legislative backing for the past year.

The Bill lays down the framework that will determine BLF's grant making - it is to distribute half the good-cause money, worth up to £700m a year - and the terms of its relationship with government.

But the National Lottery has aroused strong political passions since its foundation by the Conservatives in 1994. Concerns have included Camelots suitability to hold the operating licence, due for a third renewal in 2009; the wisdom of spending £628m of lottery money on the Millennium Dome; and a prisoner's entitlement to his £7m win.

The Tories' sudden foray into the debate about, lottery spending last month, when shadow culture secretary Theresa May accused the government of using the good-cause money as a stealth tax', is testimony to how far lottery spending has become part of a wider debate about the funding of public services, and the role of risk and innovation in public service reform.

The latest row was sparked by the award of up to £45m from BLF for a new School Food Trust charged with advising on ways to improve the quality of school meals. It centres on what constitutes additionality - the principle that states that lottery proceeds should fund only work that falls outside the purview of the state.

As the traditional recipient of lottery grants, the voluntary sector has long voiced discontent at what it sees as the erosion of additionality, pointing to such lottery-funded initiatives as healthy-living centres and the provision of MRI scanners in hospitals. They see the new award, following the sudden prominence in government policy of schoolchildren's nutrition following Jamie Oliver's intervention, as a clear breach of additionality. 'There are very few of my members who don't feel very angry about it,' says Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, who speaks for about 2,000 charities.

Citing correspondence from BLF chair Sir Clive Booth to Culture secretary Tessa Jowell about how funder and government can work together to improve school meals, Bubb claims that the lottery distributor was responding to a request from government to give it a helping hand. 'Everyone knows that the government had to fill a funding gap,' he says.

BLF, however, sees the issue differently, arguing that the award is simply an extension of work it has been pursuing on its own initiative for some time. 'We've been trying to do something around school food in the round for four or five years,' says Vanessa Potter, BLF s director of policy and external relations. 'We're not going to do that kind of direct intervention in schools.'

As the debate about additionality has evolved in recent years, the divergence between the two sides has grown ever wider. Funders even have their own, alternative term to describe the coincidence of government and distributors' priorities: complementarity'.

In Northern Ireland, the1 voluntary sector feels particularly aggrieved by the extent to which it perceives lottery funding to have been hijacked by the statutory services. 'There are so many examples we feel like we're banging our heads against a brick wall,' says Neu Irwin, member services manager at the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. 'They see it as being additional, but to us it clearly isn't.'

He adds: Our issue isn't really with the fund; our argument is with government. They're not hearing what the sector's saying - there's such a difference between what they're saying and what we're saying. …

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