Lottery fund has been 'muzzled' over emergency funding, DSC suggests

The charity suggests the National Lottery Community Fund has been prevented by the government from providing information about emergency coronavirus funding; the government refutes this

The Directory of Social Change has suggested the government has “muzzled” the National Lottery Community Fund over the allocation of emergency coronavirus funding. 

In a blog on the DSC website, Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the training and publishing charity, said he believed the NLCF had been prevented from giving out basic information about the NLCF’s share of the government’s emergency funding package for charities affected by the coronavirus crisis. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has refuted the suggestion.

The funding, worth £200m, was part of the £750m announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 8 April, and was awarded to the NCLF to small charities, but it emerged that between April and the beginning of this month, only 1 per cent of the funding had actually been given out

Kennedy wrote: “This programme is supposed to provide relatively small grants for small charities. It needs to be distributed quickly and with as little procedural friction as possible – not doing so is wasting everyone’s money, time and energy.”

He went on to say that the delay and lack of information “may not be in the NLCF’s control and is influenced by whatever written agreement exists between the NLCF and DCMS about the fund, as well as political pressure and ministerial interference in the process – the details of which remain hidden”. 

The NLCF has previously claimed it had received a “record number” of applications for the fund, but declined to give actual numbers when asked by Third Sector

Kennedy said that last month DSC had submitted a request to the NLCF under the Freedom of Information Act, asking for data about the allocations process. 

The DSC argued the information should be in the public domain, including how many applications had been received, how many were taken through to the second stage of the application process, how many had been successful, how many had been distributed and the average value. 

It also asked specifically for data on allocations to BAME organisations, when the fund was expected to have been completely given out, and on the decision making process for awarding funds.

The DSC also requested to see the contract between the NLCF and the DCMS for delivering the fund, and any communication between them and the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s office about the fund.

Kennedy’s blog revealed the FOI had been denied on the basis that it would cost too much to respond to the inquiry - something government departments are allowed to do under FOI rules. 

Kennedy said the NLCF could have complied with parts of the FOI, since information such as the total number of applicants should have been easily obtainable. 

“They refused to answer basic questions that any grant-maker – let alone a public body – should be able to answer about a £200m+ funding programme,” he wrote. 

“Why? I suspect they’re being muzzled.”

He said that “potential for embarrassment shouldn’t override reasonable requests” made under the Freedom of Information Act, or the public’s right to know what was happening with public funds, and said the DSC had asked for a review of the decision to refuse the request. 

He added that regardless of where the fault lay for the delays and lack of information, “the result is terrible funding practice” that could cause charity beneficiaries serious harm. 

A spokeswoman for the NLCF told Third Sector: “We contacted the requester of the information to say that we are not able to respond to the request in its current form, the reasons for this have been communicated to the requesting organisation.”

In a statement, the DCMS said it had absolutely no role in the refusal of the FOI and that how the NLCF chose to respond to FOI requests was an operational matter for NLCF.

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