Sector bodies echo Big Lottery Fund independence fears

More sector bodies have expressed concerns that the proposed new directions for the Big Lottery Fund could lead to it being too closely aligned to government policy.

Comments made by the Charity Finance Group, the Directory of Social Change and local infrastructure body Navca in response to the government’s consultation on the new directions echo concerns raised in the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ response, published on Tuesday

The BLF operates independently of government in its individual funding decisions but is given a set of directions by ministers to ensure its overall strategy is broadly in line with government policy.

In May, the government proposed the first new set of directions since 2012 as part of an update of the guidelines governing how and why it gives out money, and seeking sector views in a consultation, which closed at midnight last night. 

The CFG says in its response that it is "deeply concerned" by the wording of the new directions, which call for BLF funding to complement and add value to government funding in areas of mutual policy interest.

Its response says: "Whilst we respect the fact that BLF funding should complement government’s funding – it must remain an independent funder.

"We believe that this new wording puts the independence of BLF at risk and would raises concerns about its ability to plan for the long term – as governments (and their priorities) can change within a short space of time.

"The new wording risks forcing the BLF to use its funds to support government policy objectives, rather than the current wording which provides ground rules of BLF should it choose to work in areas where there is also government funding."

The DSC’s response is similar on this point, describing the wording as "problematic" and saying it represented a "big change in priority".

"The new definition seems to suggest that the fund should be working towards the government’s goals, giving that a kind of supremacy," it says.

"This places the fund far too close to government policy and compromises its independence."

The CFG also expresses concern over the inclusion of specific government funding priorities in the proposed directions, which it said would reduce the ability of the BLF to be flexible and driven by the needs of those it funds.

In its response, the DSC rejects the idea laid out in the proposals that the BLF should use social investment to increase its sustainability and impact, saying social investment was a government policy, and was dealt with by Big Society Capital.

Navca says broadly the same thing in its response, adding that social investment should be part of BLF’s funding mix but not a priority.

The DSC and Navca also both object to the idea, included in the new directions, that the fund should "operate within the Big Society policy" of government which the DSC says is "meaningless".

Navca’s response also calls for the BLF to recognise the value of and work more closely with local infrastructure bodies, especially as it says they are often responsible for supporting small organisations’ applications and ensuring the BLF gets a range of diverse and high quality applicants.

In a statement accompanying its response, Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of Navca, describes this support as tantamount to a subsidy.

"The Big Lottery’s attempts to reduce administration costs have meant they are providing less direct support for local charities and community groups," he says.

"This has created more pressure on already hard pressed local infrastructure organisations."

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