Rich person’s game

Reactions to the government’s proposals for changes to the
National Lottery have focused on the merger of the Community Fund
and the New Opportunities Fund. One criticism is that the larger
unit, which allocated half the “good cause” money, will miss out
small, local projects.

This fear is reinforced by a statement from Tessa Jowell, the
culture secretary, that she wants money to go to agencies that can
publicise what they do with lottery money. It is the multi-million
pound national voluntary societies with their PR departments,
magazines and celebrity-backing that can hit the headlines. So, too
bad for those locally run projects in deprived areas that have the
support of low-income residents rather than royalty and that lack
contacts with the media. Of course, these projects are closest to
children in need, but so what?

But the merger is not the only issue of lottery concern. The
government has decreed that lottery money will be used to fund the
2012 Olympics if they are awarded to London. I remember that before
the National Lottery got off the ground both government and
opposition were insistent that grants would go only to voluntary
bodies and none would be used to replace statutory spending. But
before long, health, education and community services were
receiving lottery money. So much for the promises of politicians.
Now the £700m – and no doubt the costs will escalate – for the
Olympics will mean that voluntary bodies will be deprived of the

The minister is also boasting that the public will have more say in
how the lottery money will be spent: it really will be a “people’s
lottery”. Does she mean that those appointed committees of affluent
establishment figures who have the power to decide who gets the
grants are to get the chop? No. A TV show may allow viewers to
express preferences for what is deserving of money.

The New Labour discredited focus groups may be enrolled. But the
big decisions will still be made by the same, unelected big people.
After all, you can imagine the minister saying: “You could hardly
expect low-income residents of run-down areas to decide how public
money should be spent.”

Why not? Poor people pay proportionately more into the lottery than
the affluent. It follows that money from their pockets goes towards
those grants to the Tate Gallery in London, the Scottish National
Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, the Lawn Tennis Association,
posh rowing clubs, the purchase of the Churchill papers, Eton
College and all those other wealthy bodies that have the
accountants and highly paid professionals to make out their case
through the complicated application procedures. And these are the
establishment organisations that obtain the big lottery bucks.
Projects in deprived areas get the crumbs and struggle to survive
each year. Jowell is now generously saying that small project
grants will double from £5,000 to £10,000. How many staff
can be employed with that?

My proposal is that the lottery should be turned on its head.
Punters in deprived areas should be allowed to tick a box saying
that they want their contribution directed back into their own
locality. The local population should elect committees to allocate
grants to existing and new projects that are genuinely controlled
by residents and which will improve the quality of life in the

The upside-down approach would have these advantages:

  • Local projects would expand and so increase the kind of
    services which residents, not outsiders, decide are best for their
  • As long as lottery funds were available, the projects would be
    likely to obtain continual funding in contrast to the short-term
    grants they receive now.
  • As projects grow, so they would take on more staff from the
    area whose salaries would boost the local economy.
  • More residents would be empowered. The consistent record of
    locally-run projects is that the involvement of the most deprived
    citizens as volunteers, sessional workers and full-time staff does
    much to boost their self-confidence. They begin to exert some
    control over their circumstances and they realise they are
    improving conditions for their families.
  • Democracy would be promoted as elected grant-makers took the
    place of some of those appointed by patronage.

These proposals would result in more lottery funds going to
those at the hard end. In short, the National Lottery would become
a tool for the redistribution of money and power.

I have a vague feeling that, years ago, Jowell was in favour of
such redistribution.

Bob Holman is a community worker in Easterhouse,

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