Fury over lottery 'theme' funding

Charity chief executives are overwhelmingly opposed to proposals to replace the Community Fund’s open-grants programme with theme-based criteria set by government within the Big Lottery Fund.

The disquiet in the Acevo survey of 130 voluntary sector chief executives comes in spite of government pledges that more money than before – some 60-70 per cent of all Big Lottery Fund funding – will go directly to the community and voluntary sectors.

The results reflect sector fears that the themes are unduly prescriptive and that many groups that secured grants from the old Community Fund, will be excluded under the new regime.

Earlier this month, the Government set out three themes for the Big Lottery Fund, the new incarnation of the combined Community Fund and New Opportunities Fund. They are: community learning and opportunity; community safety and cohesion; and promoting wellbeing. Below the themes are desired ‘outcomes’ such as ‘physically active people and communities better able to make healthy eating choices’.

The announcement of government-set themes breaks earlier promises that the voluntary sector grant stream would not be subject to “higher control”. The Community Fund’s six strategic priorities, which have been ditched two years into their five-year lifespan, specifically funded minority groups such as refugees and people living in disadvantaged areas. Though approved by Parliament, they were formulated independently by the fund in consultation with the sector.

George Hepburn, chief executive of the Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, said: “This will be a real loss to many voluntary groups who will not able to access grants. It is not the spirit of the lottery. It shouldn’t be used to fund things the Government should be doing.”

Sector representatives also expressed astonishment that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced the new themes while a consultation still has six weeks to run.

Sir Clive Booth, chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, insisted that less popular causes would be funded. But he confirmed that neither the themes nor outcomes, which have been put out for consultation over the summer, are open to change.

Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said the new regime “flatly contradicts a lot of the praise that government has heaped on the sector, and goes against everything we believe.

“Much depends on how the categories are drawn, but there’s no point having categories that don’t restrict anything, so I fear the worst,” he said.

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