Opinion: Hot issue - Is People's Millions a good use of lottery money?

Environmental charity Groundwork UK has received £1.5m in the first national round of the People's Millions, a Big Lottery Fund scheme that has attracted criticism for awarding grants according to the votes of GMTV viewers.

YES - HUGO SWIRE, shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We fully support the principle of giving players a greater say over which good causes receive lottery funding. We have suggested the possibility of players being able to specify a local charity on their ticket or turning it into a gift token that can be given to a local charity of the player's choice.

Although the People's Millions scheme provides only a small fraction of the total funds for good causes, I am glad the public have had the chance to nominate a charity to receive lottery funds.

However, it is important to remember that many charities have lost out under Labour because the lottery has been diverted away from its founding principle of providing money for good causes and has been used to fund ministers' pet projects.

The launch of the new 'Monday' lotto game this week shows the frustration among charities and the public at the way the lottery has been abused by the Government.

This is why we are currently pressing for amendments to the National Lottery Bill. As it stands, the legislation would erode the independence of the lottery even further and give too much power to ministers to decide where lottery money goes.

NO - NICK ALDRIDGE, director of strategy, Acevo

There's no question that involving the public more closely in the national lottery should be a key strand of the BLF's strategy to drive up revenue for good causes from increased ticket sales.

Organisations seeking lottery funding should be pleased that 20,000 GMTV viewers have actively engaged with the fund by voting. There's also no question that Groundwork UK will do excellent work in transforming 25 environments across the country with the £1.5m it won.

But we can certainly question the wisdom of making funding decisions based on popularity with the public. One of the greatest strengths of lottery funding has always been its independence from government. That independence has enabled lottery funders to support neglected, unpopular or controversial causes, despite shameful and ill-informed tabloid campaigns against them.

If the People's Millions remains a small proportion of lottery funding, it would be churlish to object to the extra attention it generates. But will distributors still be able to make high-quality decisions if the public comes to expect a direct say in all of them?

YES - BONI SONES, former head of public affairs, Community Fund

I warmly welcome greater public participation in the process of the distribution of lottery funds.

In my time as head of public affairs for the Community Fund, I came to the conclusion that the committee systems of decision-making regarding the distribution of lottery money were remote and out of touch with public opinion.

Only when the public can see that the processes of distribution is transparent and someone puts significant effort into communicating with them will public trust be restored.

I do not believe the public cannot be trusted with such important and complex decisions - it is the distributors and the sector itself that have served their own interests by building in complexities, such as outcome funding, that have made lottery distribution incomprehensible to the public.

This in turn has served only the interests of those employed in the sector and the distributors. It has not been to the benefit of the game or the good causes.

The general public will see through arguments that would favour only 'cuddly' causes being voted for to the detriment of others that tackle the tough social problems society has to face.

NO - JOANNE BOARDMAN, project co-ordinator, Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation

As co-ordinator of one of the final three organisations involved in the People's Millions vote, I have mixed feelings both about the processes involved in these initiatives and the reasoning behind them.

For CISWO, being involved in the People's Millions has been a positive experience in terms of raising the profile of our organisation and the mining communities we work with. It has also re-ignited the enthusiasm and motivation of the volunteers who work so hard to provide local opportunities and facilities with little financial support. The media coverage has impacted positively on the amount of support received from organisations that had little knowledge of the work CISWO or miners' welfare schemes do in their communities.

However, judging what appeared to be three good projects by public vote has its downside. The competition raised and dashed local expectations for projects vital to these communities. The small number of votes cast may have more to do with when the projects were televised, the audience at the time and the popularity of the celebrity project 'champions' than with which project was the most worthwhile recipient of the award.

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