THINKPIECE: Don't be fooled by Community Fund's critics

JULIAN EDWARDS, director-general of Consumers International

Somewhere between questionable and bizarre. That was the message last week for readers of the Daily Mail about grants received by 61 organisations from the Community Fund, including Consumers International.

Over the past few weeks, it has been implied that the Community Fund supports causes and agencies of which lottery players and the general public would not approve. And since these truths are so evident, the management of the grant-making body must be irresponsible.

First, let's be clear that the fund is good on transparency. Its funding criteria is published on the web site, which also lists all its board members and the grants awarded. This is not some "secret quango" hidden from public gaze.

Second, there is no evidence beyond what is, in the scheme of things, a very small number of letters from Mail readers expressing concern about how lottery money is used. Camelot itself accepts that lottery players are not interested in exactly what happens to their contributions. The same is surely true for much charitable giving - we donate to an institution we trust and expect it to put our money to good use.

Third, the activities for which the fund has been criticised make up just a tiny part of its funding agenda. In 2000/01, the Community Fund gave £375 million to 9,724 charities. The Mail has singled out just 61 as "questionable to bizarre" and even a cursory examination of the list will make anyone wonder what its priorities are. For example, 24 are mainstream overseas development projects directed at poverty, poor health and conflict, just the kinds of programmes which some of our best-known charities run with huge public support.

This leaves the question of how the fund should operate. The Mail seems to be in favour of giving to veteran groups, not giving to foreigners or some UK minority groups, and using money to improve mainstream public services such as health. And it wants accountability changed so that this can be achieved.

All this ignores the complete openness about the Community Fund's strategies and the commitments made when the lottery started that its grants should not be subject to political influence or be used as back door taxation to pay for public services.

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