Opinion: Hot issue - Should the recipients of Lottery funds be selected by a TV vote?

The Big Lottery Fund is in talks with ITV about a programme that would allow viewers to vote on the allocation of funds. Some politicians have also expressed support for the public to have more say in lottery spending.


Although I have no doubt that this idea could make entertaining viewing and would raise the profile of charities by profiling funding applicants, it would be hugely irresponsible to leave lottery funding decision-making in the hands of TV viewers.

The National Lottery has always had clear-cut funding objectives and criteria that must be adhered to. Distribution of lottery money must not be dictated by public opinion, but rather by expert decision-makers and independent distribution bodies that are fully informed about the applicants and the process involved.

National TV exposure would provide a great opportunity for charity funding applicants to bring their causes to the masses and demonstrate the extent of their activities and 'fundraising case'. But the sector must find another way to engage the media with charities and good causes.

The Big Lottery Fund has made it clear that this is just one option under consideration. We would encourage it to ensure that these alternative proposals also feature charitable causes and activities at the heart of the programme.

Whatever happens, funding allocations and the decision-making process cannot be a job for the viewers.


The success of the National Lottery has often been its ability to direct funding where it was not already going, particularly to small community-based organisations. Although the public could and perhaps should have a role in determining broad strategic areas of funding, a TV vote on specific grants would not reflect the diversity and scale of lottery funding. I would also be concerned that public involvement in this way might further erode the principle of additionality.

There is widespread public confusion about what lottery money is spent on. Most respondents to ICM research commissioned by the NCVO last summer said they believed charities that help asylum seekers received the same amount of lottery cash as organisations that help the disabled and the elderly. In reality, asylum seeker bodies got much less, receiving 2.5 per cent of the £285m allocated to charities by the Community Fund in 2003, while the disabled got 22 per cent and the elderly 11 per cent.

If the lottery really is going to be returned to the people, as the Government and the BLF have said, then we will have to see an improvement in the public's awareness of where the money for good causes goes.


I don't think the recipients of lottery funds should be selected by a TV vote. The idea of the Big Lottery Fund making a programme with ITV seems like an attempt to counteract the adverse publicity it has had recently.

Although I think the process of funding should be more transparent, there needs to be a comprehensive and consistent process applied to the distribution of such vast sums of money, and this can't be done on a phone-in programme.

We're not talking about spending all the Big Lottery Fund, but only a small proportion of it, so who decides which applicants will feature on this programme? We need to ensure appropriate and fair distribution. It is important to reflect the diversity of the population's needs and wants without ruling out allegedly unpopular but deserving causes.

However, I do think it is a good idea to inform the public about the lottery-funding process. The most valuable way of doing that would perhaps be to explain exactly how the fund works. A TV documentary that went into detail about how applications are made, what the decision-making process involves and what governs the size of grant would be more beneficial and constructive for the BLF.


But it is essential that the viewers get enough information to make a sensible decision. It would be ideal for choosing between one of a small number of large, high-profile landmark projects, as seems to be envisaged.

The 'pilot' heritage TV series was a great success.

The difficulty would arise in comparing the exciting but 'high-risk' project with the 'safe' but less imaginative one. It will be a challenge to transmit this concept successfully and to go beyond the simple 'which do you like best?' approach. But I think it could be done - given good information, the public are as intelligent and sensible as you or I.

Where television or any other kind of voting could be disastrous would be if it were used to make snap decisions about a large number of grants on which those voting could not be briefed in detail. In that situation, prejudice would indeed be given a free hand. But at the other end of the scale, who is better placed to make decisions about small, very local grants than those people who live in the places concerned?

So it's a yes to voting at the top and at the bottom of the grants scale, but not in the middle.

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