Politics: Labour conference - A plea to defend controversial grants

Nathalie Thomas

The voluntary sector and other stakeholders should do more to defend Big Lottery Fund grants to risky and controversial projects, Campbell Robb, director of public policy at the NCVO, told a BLF fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference.

"The lottery should always fund things that are different," he told delegates.

"It should fund risk, it should fund innovation. It shouldn't replicate and replace what the state does."

Robb suggested it was up to stakeholders to stand up and safeguard funding for initiatives that have, on occasion, attracted negative media attention, such as projects helping refugees and asylum seekers. "The Big Lottery Fund shouldn't be pushed and cowed by the media, by the Government or anyone else," he said.

Robb also suggested that the fund should reduce some of the restrictions it places on smaller grants to encourage more innovation. Grants for £500 often have the same restrictions as those for £5m, he said.

Robb's remarks followed a speech by Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the BLF, in which he admitted that the fund takes into account the risk to its reputation associated with funding certain projects.

Lottery minister Richard Caborn, who was also present, said it was important to take some risks but that public trust in the lottery had to be maintained.

Negative media stories had a profound effect on the lottery's income, he argued, which was something all parties should be aware of.

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