Jowell attempts to rush through lottery merger

The full administrative merger of the Community Fund and the New Opportunities Fund could take place within a year.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has told the two bodies to start work immediately on creating a single lottery distributor.

A joint board committee will be set up by both funds to begin detailed planning. "Significant steps towards merger" will be taken by the end of the year with administrative merger by the first half of 2004.

However, legal merger requires primary legislation. Jowell has promised the sector a 12-week consultation on the nature of the new body this summer.

ACEVO chief executive Stephen Bubb warned that moves towards merger should not pre-empt the results of the three-month consultation with the voluntary sector.

"It's important to ensure that no decisions on structure are made which affect the shape of the consultation," he said.

ACEVO wants the new distributor to be an independent good cause foundation rather than a non-departmental public body like the Community and New Opportunities Funds.

The Community Fund's board had deferred a decision on the merger in January pending assurances on eight areas of concern, including a guaranteed funding stream for charities.

But it says it is now satisfied with Jowell's "positive response" to its concerns and a joint paper published with the New Opportunities Fund earlier this month.

Steven Burkeman, vice chair of the fund's resources committee, said: "Jowell has gone a long way towards meeting our concerns. Obviously, the devil is in the detail and and we will be working as positively as we can to make sure that the new body addresses these issues."

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