To establish which political party will deliver the largest amount of National Lottery funding to the voluntary sector is no simple matter. All the manifestos, published last week, promise more money for good causes through the lottery, but in very different ways.
The Conservative Party promised the most radical changes. It pledged that the Big Lottery Fund would focus purely on supporting charities rather than the present mix of charity and statutory projects. The party said more money would be made available by cutting down on administration costs. But the BLF would see its share of the overall lottery pot reduced from 50 per cent to 40 per cent. The rest of the good cause money would be shared between the arts, heritage and sport causes.
The Labour Party said it would retain the existing proportions for the four cause areas. But it said that more money would flow to culture, heritage, sport and the BLF after the 2012 Olympics.
The Liberal Democrats also pledged to leave unchanged the proportions of lottery funding for the distributors. But the party promised that it would change the way the lottery was taxed from a 12 per cent levy on ticket sales to a 24 per cent tax on the lottery's gross profits. Over 10 years, an extra £135m could go to charities as a result.
Anne Blackmore, head of policy at the NCVO, described the various proposals as "swings and roundabouts".
For example, the BLF has committed itself to allocating 80 per cent of its spending (more than £463m in 2008/09) to the voluntary sector for the next five years, said Blackmore. The sector will thus get 40 per cent of overall lottery funds. The Tories promised that the BLF would increase its voluntary sector spending to 100 per cent, but its overall allocation would drop by 10 per cent. The result would be exactly the same - the sector would receive 40 per cent of total good cause money.
Jay Kennedy, policy officer at the Directory of Social Change, said the Tories might not have thought through their policy of reducing administrative costs. "For all its faults, the BLF has done a lot of work lately on improving the funding process and working on the feedback it gives," he said. "If there's an unrelenting focus on getting administration costs below a certain percentage, the likelihood is that it will have to focus just on getting the money out of the door."
Kevin Curley, chief executive of local umbrella body Navca, said arguments over the total amount of funding that went to lottery distributors or what proportion of total good cause money reached the sector missed the main point. "What really matters is having grant programmes that address poverty and disadvantage and enable local voluntary and community groups to tackle the needs they have defined," he said.