Mixed welcome for £2bn bounty

The Big Lottery Fund's new funding programme - worth £2.3bn over the next four years - has attracted a range of responses from the voluntary and community sector.

The fund, which was formed last June and brought together the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund, has stated that "flexible, demand-led and customer-friendly funding" will be at the heart of the new programme.

Of the total, £155m will be earmarked for developing infrastructure in the voluntary sector, including financial advice, resource centres and methods of sharing best practice.

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, welcomed the funding but added that the real test would come when the fund announces its demand-led programme in May, worth £793m. This would give smaller organisations their best chance of getting lottery funding, he said.

He expressed disappointment that there was not enough parliamentary time to discuss the Lottery Bill, and added: "The sooner we can have a real debate about the protection of additionality and the lottery's independence from government, the sooner the Big Lottery Fund will be invested with its full powers and become a real force for good in the sector."

Grants for other areas include £354m towards environmental programmes in communities, £155m to establish a strategic fund to create and improve local children's play spaces and £165m to encourage people to become healthier and lead more active lives, and to support those with mental health conditions.

The international grants programme will be increased from £12.5m to £20m a year from 2006 in order to support UK charities working in the developing world. A new priority of 'economic empowerment' will join the existing priorities of health, education, natural resources and human rights.

Luke FitzHerbert, lottery watcher at the Directory of Social Change, said: "Given that the Government has taken powers to direct this stream of funding as it wishes, and not as charities wish, these powers have not been abused and the proposals seem sensible and welcome."

However, he said that as lottery funding was inherently short-term, he wanted see an emphasis on grants to help charities achieve long-term sustainability.

- See News in Focus, page 20

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