EDITORIAL: Be careful when handing citizens their lottery role

Lucy Maggs

"Give the lottery back to the people" was the grand sentiment of Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, last week.

Launching the Government's review of the National Lottery, she said the public should have more say in where lottery money is spent: "It is their money not ours."

Reflecting New Labour's love of polls and focus groups, the idea is to use "citizen's juries" and a TV game show to help decide where lottery money should be spent - currently decisions are made by the distributors.

How exactly the public will be consulted and its opinion weighed is as yet unspecified. But these factors will be key to the future of lottery funding for the voluntary sector and are likely to leave the Government and distributors with some serious headaches.

Recruitment for the panels is likely to be difficult. People may not be keen to give up their spare time to help allocate lottery money - most lottery players, after all, buy their ticket solely in the hope they will become millionaires.

Collecting public views will also be expensive and bureaucratic, undermining the Government's rationale of reduced administration for merging the two distributors - the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund.

And leaving the distribution of funds to public opinion could mean that money will be directed to predictable causes such as cancer, children and animals, which already receive the majority of voluntary income. The Community Fund in particular has a good record of ensuring that lottery funds go to more controversial causes, including asylum seekers.

To avoid all this, public opinion should not be the deciding factor in distributing lottery money. But input must be significant enough to justify the costs and complications of consultation.

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