OPINION: THINKPIECE - Sometimes it's best to take the money and run

PETER CARDY, the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

The New Opportunities Fund announcement of £70 million for palliative care services last week has fuelled the controversy over whether National Lottery money should be used to fund what are essentially statutory services (Third Sector, 20 March).

We at Macmillan Cancer Relief believe that Lottery money should not be used to substitute funding that should come from taxation. However, real-world choices are never as clear-cut. Do we take the money now, and put it to the best use possible, or do we hold out until later?

The two Lottery funds with which Macmillan has worked - the Community Fund and New Opportunities Fund - each have clear criteria for the projects they will fund. Community Fund money must be used by charitable or voluntary organisations to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged communities. It won't fund mainstream services, such as a nurse or doctor, but has in the past helped us to set up the Macmillan Information Line and produce The Cancer Guide.

The New Opportunities Fund's boundaries are less clear in that projects in health, education and the environment are in the realm of public services.

The fund works in a very similar way to how Macmillan works with the NHS, by adding value to the services which already exist or pioneering development that would not otherwise take place.

For instance, we agree to pay for a post or the initial costs of a building project usually for the first three years on condition that funding is then taken over by the health trust concerned. Macmillan does not employ the nurses or doctors or own the buildings - the NHS does. It adds value to existing cancer services but also ensures that more and better services are made available for patients and their carers.

It is arguable that the £70 million just made available from the New Opportunities Fund for palliative care is money that should have come from taxation, and we will continue to push the Government to plough more money into NHS cancer services. In the meantime, however, it would be wrong for charities to turn down money that is available now from other sources such as the Lottery if they are in a position to put it to use for cancer patients.

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