Interview: Peter Wanless

The chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund explains the thinking behind a new programme to support young carers, young people leaving care and people leaving young offenders institutions

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, describes the organisation as a 'pioneer' of projects that support young people. 

Previous projects to benefit from its support include schemes encouraging teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds to produce their own TV programmes and projects that allow young people with learning disabilities to discuss their career aims. 

It has now added a £30m fund for projects supporting young carers, young people leaving care and people leaving young offenders institutions. But, as Wanless explains, the priorities were chosen after extensive research. 

"We wanted to target the programme very carefully, so that charities aren't wasting their time by bidding for funds they have no chance of winning," he says. "This way, we're very clear about who should apply."

Evidence from a BLF consultation carried out last year, as well as from the Young Foundation's report Sinking and Swimming: Understanding Britain's Unmet Needs, which was published earlier this month, indicated the three priority areas, says Wanless.

"Our funding is about filling gaps," he says. "It's relevant to government policy, but not dictated by it, and it doesn't duplicate the work already funded by the Government."

Wanless says some of the new £30m fund might be given to statutory services such as young offenders institutions, but that the money was overwhelmingly for voluntary groups.

"Some statutory organisations will be best placed to deliver the services we are looking to fund - and, if so, we will fund them," he says. "But at least 80 per cent will go to the voluntary sector."

The money will be available next year, says Wanless, although it is not yet clear whether this would be before or after the general election, which must be held by June.

But the money will be spent in the same way regardless of who is in government, he insists. "Of course, the Big Lottery fund isn't working in splendid isolation by deciding to spend the money in this way," he says. "But it's also not a case of the Government leaning on us."

Wanless is also keen to make it clear that the new fund was separate from the Reclaim Fund, a new fund announced in the pre-Budget report last week that will hold money from dormant bank accounts and from which the Big Lottery Fund will distribute money. Most of the Reclaim Fund's good causes funding will be spent on youth services.

"The Government will issue us with policy directions for how to spend the Reclaim Fund," he says. "If we do allocate reclaim fund money to these three priority areas, it will be as well as, and not instead of, the new £30m."

But he said it was unclear whether the Reclaim Fund would be distributed in line with BLF policy, which says that 80 per cent must go to voluntary and community groups. "I don't know whether that has been decided yet," he says. "But it's something for charities to think about."

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