Analysis: Lottery refund 'won't begin until mid-2020s'

Charities are angry at the timescale for return of 'Olympic raid' cash, finds John Plummer

Olympic park: charities face a long wait for repayment
Olympic park: charities face a long wait for repayment

Charities are used to waging long campaigns, but their battle to recover money seized from the National Lottery for the London Olympics could be a particularly lengthy one.

John Penrose, the Olympics minister, said last week that lottery distributors would be repaid from the receipts of the sale of land in the Olympic park over 25 years. The first payments, the minister said, were not expected until the mid-2020s.

A total of £1.085bn is being transferred from 13 lottery distributors for the games.

The Big Lottery Fund, which last year gave 90 per cent of its funding to voluntary organisations, is by far the biggest loser, forfeiting £638m.

The voluntary sector will lose in other ways: other distributors give significant sums to charities and, according to a 2010 House of Commons briefing paper, Olympic lottery games could divert £65m annually from good causes.

Jay Kennedy, head of policy at the training body the Directory of Social Change, says Penrose's timeframe is "totally unacceptable".

He says ministers should consider other, quicker ways of repaying lottery money. "The timescale is not good enough and we are not going to just sit back and say OK," says Kennedy. "We need to build a head of steam."

Ministers initially took £213m from the BLF for the games. The second 'raid' for £425m in 2007 was widely seen as excessive and is the focus of a DSC Big Lottery Refund campaign, which began last year.

About 200 organisations and people have so far pledged support and Kennedy says activity will be stepped up in the run-up to this summer's games.

Tessa Jowell, Labour's Olympics minister, agreed in 2007 that the £425m would be returned but did not commit to a timescale.

Penrose appears to have offered some way forward, but Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says the timings are a concern.

"It's always worrying when any politician promises something three general elections away in terms of whether it will happen," says Kernighan.

Charities need the money now, he says - particularly as they are losing jobs at twice the rate of the public sector.

Kernighan also wants ministers to ensure the BLF receives as much money back as it lost, even though its share of the lottery pie has recently been reduced from 50 per cent to 40 per cent.

Neil Cleeveley, policy and communications director at the local infrastructure group Navca, says it was pleased when the Conservatives in opposition supported charities' calls for money to be returned as soon as possible.

"It is disappointing that such little effort is being made to get this money back to charities as soon as possible," says Cleeveley. "The government must do whatever it can to get the Olympic Park Legacy Company to prioritise giving charities their money back."

Gareth Thomas, the shadow third sector minister, says he raised the issue with Penrose because of fears about the charity funding climate. He says discussions about the legacy of the games must address the issue of money being returned to charities.

"There is no clarity over the timescale, or when the asset sales will begin," says Thomas. "It would be helpful if the government published a plan for getting lottery money back."

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