Newsmaker: Trust me, I'm a minister - Estelle Morris MP, ArtsMinister, Home Office

When Estelle Morris returned to government as Lottery Minister eight months after famously quitting as Education Secretary, she was probably expecting a comparatively easy ride. But although the Lottery Bill was published last week, its journey has been far from smooth, and it promises to give Morris a few more bumps yet before it reaches the statute books.

The decision to fuse the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund to form the Big Lottery Fund has been unpopular from the start. Many in the voluntary sector perceived it as a clampdown on the Community Fund in the wake of its £340,000 grant to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, which saw the Lottery slated by the right-wing tabloids. Others saw it simply as a sly attempt by the Government to get more control over where lottery money goes.

Whatever their reasons, the sector didn't like it, and said so. But the Department for Culture, Media and Sport pressed ahead with the merger anyway.

Then, in August, the DCMS published the themes and outcomes that would underlie all grant decisions.

Not only were these themes - promoting wellbeing, community learning and community safety - announced six weeks before the fund was due to finish consulting with the voluntary sector, but they looked remarkably similar to the Government's own priorities of health, education and crime.

Not surprisingly, all this has created more than a murmur of discontent and both the Big Lottery Fund and the DCMS have come in for a bit of flak recently. Morris herself has kept a low profile and avoided the worst of it.

But this week, she stepped into the fray to defend the department and the fund. "We are not seeking any greater control over what the Big Lottery Fund gives grants to," she insists. "In fact it's an argument that we'll be seeking less control."

How, then, does she square the fact that the new Bill allows the Secretary of State to specify persons and purposes to whom the fund may or may not make grants? That wasn't a feature of the old Community Fund.

"Ah, but it was of the New Opportunities Fund," she counters. She goes on to explain that the clause is needed so that the Big Lottery Fund can set up its various funding streams, such as the Young People's Fund announced last month. "Unless we've got the power in law to actually determine that, we would never be able to set up that fund," she says.

"But I do accept that someone might turn to me and say 'yes, but you might not determine asylum seekers, not refugees'. We won't - that is not the intent and it won't be the way we act, but I can't prove that now."

Morris is clearly perturbed by the sector's propensity to look for defects in the new fund. "There is more structure now than with the Community Fund, but what people have to accept is there is far less structure than with the New Opportunities Fund."

She says this is "not a Labour Government structure", but insists it is not an unpalatable structure either. Most people would not object to some money going to "health, education and the environment", she says, referring to the three Big Lottery Fund themes, but adds that those things won't get Lottery cash at the expense of less sexy causes. "I believe the Lottery has to continue to fund things the public might not prioritise themselves," Morris declares.

"The question I put to the voluntary bodies when I'm having my meetings with them is 'what do you fund now that you won't be able to fund in future?' I defy anybody not to find a slot where they can reasonably fund the things they see as important. The advantage of doing it our way is it stands a better chance of bringing the Lottery money in with other sources of money as well, because it's rare that people just apply for Lottery money.

"Whether it's right or wrong, one of the things that as a politician you worry most about, is that you spend money in such small packages that you never change the world. That at the end of your time in office you say, all that money, how did it change the world, to find it didn't. It got spent legitimately and properly, but it was never brought together in a planned way to make a seismic shift in life.

"It's the same with the Lottery. I'm not being disparaging, but there is a real danger that small pockets of money spent here and there, but with no clear priority headings, ends up not bringing about the social change the Lottery is capable of."

Morris says she understands the sector's fears about the fund's loss of independence, but points out that the Government is a partner in the Lottery and has a big role to play. She admits there will be more structure, but rejects accusations that the additionality principle - that the Lottery doesn't fund things that should be funded by taxes - is being eroded.

She says the sector "ought not to be nervous" about the changes - quite the opposite, in fact. Under the new regime, the Government will no longer decide who the delivery partners should be in New Opportunities-type projects - the Big Lottery Fund will have that responsibility.

Morris claims this opens up a whole new avenue for charities. "The New Opportunities Fund genes won't be as strongly attached to the statutory sector as in the old body ... so the voluntary sector - and I say this very gently - should be seizing that chance. They have to look forward and be confident about what they might gain.

"There's a lot there for the gaining and I would be so distraught if they took their eye off that ball because they were too busy looking back being fearful about what they might lose."

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