Opinion: This second Olympics lottery raid just will not do

In March, the news broke that an additional £675m of lottery money was going to be diverted from good causes to help plug the gap caused by the revised budget for the 2012 Olympics.

Up to that point, all the country's cultural and sporting leaders, voluntary and public sector alike, had sung from the same hymn sheet. The Olympics would be good for sport and the public at large, they would give the UK the chance to show off its cultural heritage and the lottery contribution was not so great as to threaten the viability of many good causes. Complaints about cash raids were strangely muted.

That has all changed. Lottery funding was originally set at £1.5bn. It is now £2.2bn, and cultural and grass-roots sporting and community organisations are beginning to scream. And so they should. For where is the evidence that the Olympics will boost sporting participation?

Tim Lamb, chief executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, was reported in The Guardian as saying: "There is no evidence that where the Olympics have been held in the past they have led to more people participating in sport." The Athens Olympics left a legacy of ill-maintained swimming pools unavailable for public use. Only Sydney, with its huge funding for both culture and sport, managed to showcase cultural talent and keep young people involved in sport at a grass-roots level.

But what really sticks in many people's craws is what culture secretary Tessa Jowell has said: "This is money from the existing good causes to a once-in-a-lifetime good cause."

Of course it is a matter of national pride that the UK should host the Olympics. It is a matter of London pride that London should be the host city. But is this truly a good cause as we would normally understand it? Does it help the poor, the sick, the needy? Does it open the eyes of disadvantaged young people to possibilities for them personally? Does it maintain the fabric of our heritage or lead to greater artistic expression?

To most of these questions the answer is no. Jowell apparently fought a magnificent battle with the Treasury to keep the lottery contribution as low as it is, but she cannot claim that the Olympics are a good cause in the orthodox sense.

That is why the cultural, sporting and community sectors are so cross, along with a considerable number of MPs. They can see every constituency in the country being roughly £1m short in funding for their own good causes.

They fear that the unbridled joy that greeted the announcement of the London bid's victory will turn to shock at how voluntary sector organisations are struggling, anger at the lack of a sporting legacy and a less than fully funded cultural Olympiad. And the issues were not even properly debated. The voluntary sector should be queuing up to complain to government and MPs. This second raid - for what is not really a good cause at all - simply is not acceptable.

- Julia Neuberger is a Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering.

And while we're on the subject ...

- The original estimate for the cost of the London Olympics was £2.4bn; this has risen to £9.35bn, culture secretary Tessa Jowell told MPs in March. The construction costs are now budgeted at £5.3bn. The rest of the money will be spent on a contingency fund, tax and security. So far, £2.2bn of lottery money has been diverted to the games.

- Last month, four of the UK's leading voluntary organisations united to demand a debate on the Olympic lottery raids in the House of Commons. The NCVO, the Voluntary Arts Network, Heritage Link and the Central Council for Physical Recreation announced that they would be writing to opposition MPs to enlist support for their plan.

- The NCVO says the lottery raids would result in a reduction in funding for good causes of between £500,000 and £1m per constituency. It says that one consequence of the raids could be the suspension of the Awards for All small grants programme, which would result in 86,000 grass-roots projects finding themselves without any funding at all.

- Much has been made of the possible legacy of the Olympics, but recent experience suggests such gains may be limited. Many of the facilities built for Athens in 2004 are now derelict, critics have said the 1996 games did not deliver lasting community benefits for Atlanta and even Sydney is struggling to find uses for its Olympic facilities.

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