OPINION: The lottery needs democracy

Lisa Harker, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Tessa Jowell's decision to press ahead with the merger of the New Opportunities Fund and Community Fund prompted a right old hullabaloo.

But most of the media coverage of the announcement gave a rather warped view of the implications.

There was widespread reporting of the sector's indignation that the Government had not consulted them about the proposal. The secretary of state implied that the Government had received general support for the merger, when this was simply not true. Voluntary organisations were livid about her remarks.

The coverage implied that the sector opposed the merger of two (or more) of the six lottery fund distributors on principle. In fact, many within the sector recognise the sense of streamlining the lottery funding process.

It is conceivable that there are more efficient ways to distribute lottery funding to good causes.

The public has been given the impression of a sector opposed to simplification of the lottery fund process when in fact there is a more important issue at stake: the role of the public in determining lottery spend. The establishment of the New Opportunities Fund diverted a third of lottery funding to projects that have to fall within government priorities. NOF funding has been put to good use but the money has been spent on areas that otherwise would have been met by the public purse.

The public needs convincing that the lottery is an effective way to support good causes. At the same time, the proposed merger of the New Opportunities Fund and Community Fund sends a signal that the definition of good causes will be determined by the Government's priorities.

Now that the Government has conceded to pressure and will consult the sector and others about the merger, there is an opportunity for public debate about how lottery funds are spent.

In its original consultation, the Department of Culture suggested that the public should have more say in determining lottery spend. Now is the time to consider ways to democratise the lottery.

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