Lottery delays endanger projects

A number of community projects may have to be scrapped because of delays in lottery funding.

The New Opportunities Fund's (NOF) Green Spaces and Sustainability programme, launched last year, is run by 11 "award partners" on behalf of the fund, including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation (RSNC) and the Countryside Agency.

The arrangement was supposed to improve the funding process. But a lack of expertise and grants officers among some of the distributing bodies has led to delays and a log-jam of applications, it has been claimed.

Around 4,000 community groups originally expressed an interest in the SEED (Social, Economic and Environmental Development) programme, with the RSNC acting as award partner.

But many groups are unhappy that decisions on their applications, originally promised for February, have now been deferred until May. Seventy-four groups have been affected, according to a spokeswoman at the NOF.

The manager of an environmental charity in the west of England, who did not wish to be named, said: "The start date for our project was March.

We've now been moved to June and that's assuming they tell us about our funding in May. They say they're not even sure about that.

"We have been put under great financial pressure. If we don't get the funding the project won't happen,

he said.

The RSNC admitted the scheme's popularity had taken it by surprise. Only four days had been set aside annually for representatives of all the various agencies involved to process the applications. It has requested more staff, and an extra meeting is being arranged.

Vivienne O'Connor, the RSNC's SEED programme manager, said groups should never rely on just one source of funding. "If it's crucial that a project starts at a particular time, then people should plan ahead,

she said.

A spokesman for the Countryside Agency confirmed that only 2.61 per cent of the £12.8 million allocated for its Doorstep Greens (improving open spaces) had been handed out so far but stressed that the sum was to be spent over six years.

The NOF has also been criticised over the administration costs for the scheme, reported to be running at 10 per cent. Operating costs vary between programmes, and are inevitably higher for delegated schemes where a third party is involved, said an NOF spokeswoman.

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