The Big Lottery Fund should remain a non-departmental government body and have its independence from government strengthened, voluntary sector representatives have told a Cabinet Office consultation.
The Cabinet Office is carrying out the review of the BLF for the first time as part of a requirement for all government departments to review their non-departmental public bodies at least once every three years.
Officials are looking at whether the functions performed by the BLF are still needed and whether it should continue in its current form, in line with all triennial reviews. Its structure, efficiency and effectiveness are also being considered.
The review document, issued in November, asks respondents whether a non-departmental public body is the most efficient model for the BLF and whether it would work better, for example, if it were moved outside government, run by a government department, merged with another organisation or delivered by another organisation.
In its response to the consultation, which has now closed, the local infrastructure body Navca says: "We would definitely oppose any moves to integrate the BLF further into government.
"We would welcome any moves to address perceptions of political interference, but do not believe that this necessarily needs to involve a change in status as a non-departmental public body."
Navca says there are long-standing concerns about political interference in BLF’s decision-making, which were expressed under previous governments as well as the coalition.
"Irrespective of the veracity of these concerns, the fund does suffer from the perception of government interference," its response says. "This has the potential to damage both the fund and the government of the time."
Navca says the BLF must be held to account for the way money is distributed and there should be a clear separation of the government’s and the fund’s policy decision-making processes.
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, which also participated in the consultation exercise, said: "If the BLF ceased to exist in its current form it would have a massive impact and I think it would be pretty negative for the voluntary sector. It is a leading grant-maker, particularly for small charities.
"It is a stable or growing source of funding when other grants are being cut back or put under pressure."
The DSC and other sector bodies met Cabinet Office officials in December to discuss the review, he said.
"The BLF has huge downsides – political meddling and interference, for example," said Kennedy. "We would like to explore the option of making it completely independent of government.
"Even if it’s not direct instructions from government, the fund has to consider policy directions that can get in the way of more independent, strategic decisions based on evidence.
"The fund has such a wealth of information about social needs and what the voluntary sector and community groups are asking for that it can tailor programmes appropriately. But I think it could do more if it had more independence."
Tris Lumley, development director of the consultancy New Philanthropy Capital, said his response to the review made clear BLF’s vital role as a funder, particularly its investment in the infrastructure of the sector.
"It will be interesting to see what comes out of the review," he said. "The BLF has been under cost pressures from its political masters in the past.
"It is tough to be a smart funder without investing in capacity and resource, and I hope that the outcome includes recognition of its strengths and how they need to be resource properly."