Opinion: How charities can really win the lottery

Nick Cater

Why is everything to do with the National Lottery suddenly so busy?

The Big Lottery Fund has issued a discussion paper about its role; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has launched a consultation on BLF programmes; the Parliamentary Bill reorganising fund distribution goes to committee shortly; and the National Lottery Commission is asking for comments on its second discussion document ahead of invitations to apply for licences next year.

Oh, and the first shortlists of prospective winners in People's Millions, ITV's £66.5m interactive give-away-a-grant show, will be announced next month. Quick prediction of the winners? Fluffy animals, little kids and battling grannies, yes. Asylum seekers, no.

Although we might be stuck with the Camelot-run National Lottery until January 2009, now seems a good time to suggest that the causes and people that charities assist need a better deal.

The first step, as the NCVO has urged, is to create a far less politicised, arm's-length fund distribution system to head off government intervention, such as David Blunkett's bullying behaviour over the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns and the arbitrary announcement that charities will lose billions in lottery grants to the London Olympics.

Second, the 5 per cent of income that the operating company receives should show a sliding reduction through the licence life to enforce efficiency, push sales and take less from good causes.

Third, if the lottery is such a great way to fund good causes, the Government should give up its 12 per cent duty and at a stroke turn charities' anaemic 28 per cent share of income into a far rosier 40 per cent. Had this happened from the start, it would already have been worth a very useful £6.3bn.

Fourth, and at the risk of cutting cash to good causes, the age limit on ticket sales should be raised from 16 to 18 to slow some people's slide into gambling addiction.

And finally, surely by 2009 we should do what should have been done in 1994 and give the licence to a non-profit consortium. That said, I doubt I'm alone in thinking there must be a better lottery champion than Sir Richard Branson.

Camelot's latest pass-the-sickbag slogan says it is "serving the nation's dreams". The voluntary sector must ensure that the lottery serves the nation's reality.

Nick Cater is a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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