Debra Allcock Tyler: Coalition's lottery promise turns out to be nothing more than a fairy tale

The government has so far failed to restore the money diverted to the Olympics from the Big Lottery Fund, says our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

My mother lied to me. She told me when I was growing up that if I kissed enough frogs I would one day find my prince. What she failed to mention was that princes all too frequently turn out to be toads. Of course, my mother's mistake was to make a promise it was simply not within her power to keep. So I forgive her.

However, I cannot forgive this government for so far failing to keep a promise that is within its power to keep. Readers may remember the outrage expressed - not only by our sector but also by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, and some in Labour too - when the Labour government 'diverted' (some might use the word 'stole') another £675m of our lottery money to pay for the Olympics. We said at the time: "Hands off our money. It belongs, if not in law, then ethically and morally, to the voluntary and community sector."

The Conservative Party in particular was very vocal about this at the time, and I was much encouraged by that. In its 2009 paper on voluntary action, A Stronger Society, it even promised to enact legislation to "restore the lottery's independence" from government, so that this kind of thing could never happen again. And in its manifesto it said: "The Big Lottery Fund will focus purely on supporting social action through the voluntary and community sector, instead of ministers' pet projects as at present."

These are promises the government has not kept. Although it has talked about the importance of additionality, we find in the recent Office for Civil Society consultation on the Big Lottery Fund's policy directions some very worrying language suggesting that lottery funds and programmes should "add value" to government funding. If you ask me, there's a slippery slope between adding value and replacing something government should be paying for anyway. The lottery boards should simply not have to take into account government directives when deciding where to spend our money.

Just imagine my outrage when I heard George Osborne say at the recent Conservative Party conference that "... there is some spare money". Guess what, George - I know there is. I know there is going to be unspent money relating to the Olympics. I know that you have the money to pay us back. And yet ministers are telling me we will most likely have to wait until at least 2020, after the sale of the Olympic assets, for the lottery to start being refunded. 2020! How many voluntary organisations will go to the wall between now and then for lack of funding?

The coalition is crazy not to realise there is a real opportunity here to help a struggling voluntary sector by righting a wrong. So, ministers, don't turn into toads. Keep your promises. Honour the BLF's independence and give us back our money. Now. Before it's too late for some charities. You never know, I might even promise to give you a kiss.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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