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January 19, 2010

Where should Lottery funds be spent?

In the coming years, the Big Lottery Fund is likely to come under increasing pressure to fill some of the funding gaps left by local councils and health boards as they try to work with year on year budget reductions. Many feel that all of BLF’s cash should go to the voluntary sector but of late a significant amount has gone elsewhere (£4.18million last year). It looks like this could become a contentious  issue in the forthcoming elections

SNP and Tories battle it out over BIG future

A POLITICAL spat has broken out between the SNP and Conservative Party over the future of the Big Lottery Fund.

The SNP has accused the Conservative Party of attacking the public sector through plans to stop the Big Lottery Fund from distributing cash to organisations not operating in the voluntary or community sector (YCS).

However, the Conservative Party claims it aims to ensure that lottery cash does not subsidise services that should be paid for through public funding.

Conservative frontbench spokesperson, Jeremy Hunt MP, stated recently: ” …one of the first things a Conservative Government will do will be to restore the Lottery to its original four good causes. The Big Lottery Fund will – explicitly – only fund projects in the voluntary and community sectors.”

Last year in Scotland, the Big Lottery Fund spent £4.l8m on 509 non-YCS projects, including 490 awards to schools in Scotland, through its small grant schemes.

The SNP’s Pete Wishart said the money has been used to help initiatives from sensory gardens for severely disabled children to training for those with autism to educational support for pre-school children.

Examples of larger awards included £285,000 granted to a Renfrewshire project helping the long term unemployed back into work and £88,000 to help addicts in North Ayrshire move on from their addictions.

Wishart, the SNP spokesperson for culture, media and sport, said: “David Cameron’s plans would strike at the heart of the important work these organisations are doing for people in Scotland.

“What the Conservatives are trying to package nicely as “restoring funding” will actually mean funding cuts for these good causes.

“The great irony is that the Tories claim they want a lottery independent of the government but one of the first things they plan to do if they get into Downing Street is dictate to the Big Lottery Fund what they can and can’t support.”

The Conservative Party is due to reveal its full proposals for the National Lottery in the coming months, however Scottish Conservatives education spokeswoman Liz Smith, who has been involved in the process, told TFN that the party intends to increase lottery funding to culture, sport and heritage.

She said there are no current plans to reduce funding to the Big Lottery Fund, but indicated the party will be examining its current high administration costs.

“The thing that is particularly bad is that a lot of smaller charities keep their administration costs way down to four or five per cent, but then you’ve got the Big Lottery up at 11 per cent,” she said.

“The key thing though is that the voluntary and community sectors are often those that know their communities best. That is where the real hard work is going on about what is the right thing to do. I don’t think we want a system that is too governed by the pet policies of any government, whether it be Labour or the Conservatives. I think it’s better if that’s kept out of politics.”

The Big Lottery Fund Scotland spokesperson however said: “The Big Lottery Fund was recently praised by The National Audit Office as an organisation from which others could learn and whose administration costs compare favourably with public sector funders and with other funders in the voluntary sector. In the last year our administration costs were 8.6 per cent.”

John Downie, director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “On the face of it, we welcome the move by the Conservatives, as we’ve long argued that 100 per cent of the Big Lottery Fund’s cash should go to the voluntary sector.

“What we need to be careful of, however, is that the amount of money available to our sector through the Big Lottery Fund is not cut or diverted.

“Liz Smith’s comment that more lottery funding would be made available for culture, heritage and sport can only mean that money would be taken away from Big – a move which we could not support.”