Two charity chief executives have criticised the Big Lottery Fund’s practice of soliciting applications for grants as unfair and lacking transparency.
The BLF has the power to invite organisations to submit applications for funding, rather than leaving them to take the initiative and apply through its programmes.
Richard Caulfield, chief executive of the regional network Voluntary Sector North West, said soliciting bids wasn’t necessarily a bad idea but he was concerned about the lack of transparency in the process.
He said the recent solicited awards of between £820,000 and £2.2m to London-based organisations – including the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the Media Trust, the Young Foundation, UnLtd and Your Square Mile – were of particular concern because it suggested the BLF had become "London-centric". The BLF shares London offices with Nesta.
Writing in his blog, Caulfield suggested solicited bids appeared to go to people who "move in the right circles, drink in the right bars or attend the right parties".
Gary Copitch, chief executive of the community development organisation People’s Voice Media, told Third Sector soliciting bids was "immoral" and "wrong".
In a blog called Big Society or the Cocktail Party, Copitch wrote: "We now seem to live in a world of deals behind closed doors where only the connected will prosper."
A BLF spokeswoman said: "Opportunities for solicitations usually emerge from a mix of intelligence gathering and discussions with the voluntary sector."
She said the BLF maintained a broad dialogue with the voluntary sector about emerging programmes, themes and strategies that occasionally "throws up an opportunity to invest in the delivery of outcomes we are not reaching through our demand-led programmes".
Solicited bids, she said, were issued in accordance with Department for Culture, Media and Sport guidance. "No solicitation goes forward without the approval of a business case by the relevant board or committee," she said.
There is no ring-fenced budget for solicited bids, but the spokeswoman said they would always receive a "small percentage" of funding.