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20 Dec 2000 : Column 112WH

Lottery Money

12.30 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I want to discuss the regional distribution of lottery grants. The debate is, I suppose, timely given the current news, but I do not want to go into the matter of who is to run the national lottery. That is a debate for another day.

I am delighted to be introducing the debate. I met the Minister in the summer to discuss my concerns about the distribution of lottery grants. The fact that I wanted this debate is by no means a sad reflection on that meeting: it is intended to move matters on, as we had a very interesting discussion. She was helpful, and I am grateful for her attendance today.

The national lottery was started six years ago, in November 1994. The principal reason was to try to provide funding for undertakings that were not covered by general taxation and therefore to provide benefits to certain areas and opportunities for organisations and projects that might not otherwise be afforded them. It appeared to be an exciting prospect and I dare say that it has often proved beneficial. There are many opportunities for use of the money, such as the opportunity to regenerate certain areas. However, that approach should not be concentrated just on towns or inner cities. There are perhaps better ways to regenerate those places--such as by getting people to live in them again, and by building there rather than in the countryside. The point is that rural areas also have projects and organisations that need help.

Rural communities are under threat. Farming is going through a difficult period. There is a threat to some rural post offices, shops and pubs. The price of petrol is high, and that is a threat to livelihoods in the countryside. Today, the hunting debate will pose a further threat. I look forward to joining the Minister in the same Lobby later. In addition to aiming to help rural areas, we should aim to create sustainable communities. I hope--although I am not sure about this--that the criteria for allocating lottery funds extend to the creation of sustainable communities, rather than just to building houses. A load of houses is not a community. I should have thought that such an objective was suitable for the national lottery.

It is difficult to ascertain the criteria by which each board of the national lottery makes decisions about giving, but I know that that sphere of activity is the largest part of the Minister's jurisdiction and responsibility in respect of the national lottery. I am not suggesting that she is responsible for the grants that are given or refused, but she is responsible for setting the parameters, and perhaps she will provide more detail on that.

The south-west region is a loser in many respects. It does not have terribly good rail links, although I suppose most people would say that about their region at present. It also receives relatively low funding for education, health, policing and local government. I am afraid that it does not do very well from lottery funding. According to figures that I have been given by the House of Commons Library--all the figures that I shall give are from that source--the south-west received £113 per capita, which is 20 per cent. below the national figure of £140 per capita. That puts the south-west eighth out of

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12 regions. The figures for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are £150, £156 and £157 respectively. Some parts of the south-west can claim to be as remote and to have similar difficulties to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, yet there is that huge difference in lottery funding. Indeed, there is a wide range of difference in the regional figures. Only £76 per capita of lottery money finds its way to the eastern region, whereas £162 per capita goes to the north-east, which is 43 per cent. more than the figure for the south-west. Is that difference justified?

To break the distribution down within the region--as the Minister knows, I have much concern about the money that is coming, or not coming, to my constituency--Tewkesbury receives only 2.58 per cent. of all the lottery money coming to Gloucestershire, which is a total of £1.86 million out of £72.2 million. Neighbouring Gloucester received about £22 million, and even the beautiful Cotswold constituency received a total of £16 million. I have nothing against the other constituencies in Gloucestershire--good luck to them for securing that funding, and I hope that they continue to do so--but, on a strictly proportional basis, Tewkesbury has about 17 per cent. of the population, so why do we receive only 2.58 per cent. of the money coming to the county?

There may be reasons, and if so, I would like to uncover and confront them. One might ask whether institutions in Tewkesbury are applying for the money. Of all applications made by the county, 15 per cent. come from Tewkesbury. Are they asking for enough money? Of all the money asked for by organisations in the county, 14 per cent. comes from organisations in Tewkesbury. So our organisations are making the applications and are asking for sufficient money. Why then do they receive only 8 per cent. of the funds that they ask for, when organisations throughout the country receive 44 per cent. of the funds that they ask for?

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. A further problem concerns the advice received by organisations. To give two examples, Ken Hitchings, who represents Kingshill house in Dursley, and Bob Ludlow of Woodchester village hall would allege that the advice that they received concerning their request for lottery money has not been good and has caused confusion. They failed to get not only the money but the right advice about how they should go about getting it.

Mr. Robertson : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he is successful in catching your eye again later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What he says worries me, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention was timely, because I was just coming on to ask whether the shortfall in funding was due to an unprofessional approach in Tewkesbury. I do not think that it is. Is it a lack of support from the council? That is clearly not the case. I would like to cite two examples to demonstrate my point. I declare an interest in relation to the first. My wife is a director and trustee of Rose's theatre, so I know a little about its application, which was professionally

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submitted and received financial support from Tewkesbury borough council; the theatre also put in some of its own money. When it was submitted, Rose's theatre was told by the director of capital services at the Arts Council:

A second project, for a swimming baths Churchdown village in my constituency, was also professionally prepared. I have a copy here, and hon. Members will notice the size of it. We would need much more time than we have available to go through it all. It goes into minute detail. Again, the application was well supported by the local borough council. Churchdown is one of the largest villages in England, with a population of just over 10,000--quite a big area. It is not terribly prosperous and has few facilities, but its bid was turned down. The senior case manager at Sport England said that it was turned down

When I raised that response with the Minister, she said that it was nonsense, and she was right for three reasons. First, children cannot drive; secondly, we are supposed to be trying to reduce car journeys; and thirdly, we need to build sustainable communities, and if people have to drive out of their communities to enjoy facilities, we are not doing that--we are simply building loads of houses on green fields, which does not constitute a community.

Other bids from my constituency have also been turned down, including those for playing fields in Bishop's Cleeve, a jet age museum at Staverton and a heritage centre at Tewkesbury. The battle of Tewkesbury took place in 1471 as part of the wars of the roses. Although the Yorkists won that battle, they did not win the war. Like Churchdown and the rest of the south-west region, Tewkesbury is not a particularly prosperous area. The regional distribution of lottery funding is unfair, and the distribution within the region, certainly as it applies to Tewkesbury, is unfair as well.

I ask the Minister to look into Tewkesbury's funding in great detail. Will she review the giving criteria and ensure that sensible criteria are adhered to? Will she monitor the regional distribution of lottery funds and donations within the region? I also ask her to assess the reasons for refusals.

There will be repercussions from what is happening in my area and perhaps in the rest of the south-west. If organisations feel that they have little likelihood of success, they will become dispirited and give up. People such as Councillor Brian Jones, who was involved in both the bids to which I have referred--Rose's theatre and the Churchdown swimming pool--put so much into the community and should not be treated as they have been. Money will not reach the areas that it should unless there is fairer distribution of lottery funds. Organisations in Tewkesbury could be forgiven for asking what on earth they have to do. They receive only 2.58 per cent. of the money that goes to the county, which is unacceptable. People in Tewkesbury play the lottery just as much as people in any other part of the county and should benefit from it equally.

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12.42 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): In my intervention, I raised two issues. There are several other issues, but I shall not dwell on them now; I shall simply make two points about the process. First, it seems that Kingshill house was uniquely badly advised about the route to take in seeking funding and therefore wasted much time and effort. Disillusionment has set in as a result. Will the Minister say how the advice about which route to pursue can be improved? I know that it is difficult to do that, because there is almost always an understanding that an organisation will receive the money if it receives a lot of advice, and that clearly cannot follow.

The second issue is debriefing people from an organisation after they have heard that they will not receive the money. There is almost a belief that they cannot be told why they will not receive it. Again, I know that there are problems about speaking to so many organisations and how much assistance can be offered, but when people have invested an awful lot of time, effort and money in pursuing a bid, it is only right and proper that they should receive greater clarification. If not, they might go through the process again and again, which could lead to upset--I put it no more strongly than that.

12.44 pm

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey ): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) on securing this debate. I also congratulate him on his persistence in relation to this issue over the past few months. He is right to remind me that we met. I thought that we had a useful conversation. Unfortunately, much as I would like to, I do not sit in my office with a cheque book, and I do not decide who receives lottery grants. However, he raised several issues that were useful to hear about. I am also glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) was able to say a few words. I shall try to cover some of his points.

Clearly, areas such as Tewkesbury and Stroud have had real problems in getting what they feel is a fair share of the lottery money. As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury pointed out, it is not a question of their not applying, as, in spite of submitting 14 per cent. of all applications made in the county--and asking for 14 per cent. of the money requested--Tewkesbury received only 2.6 per cent. of the money allocated to organisations in the county. Clearly, that is difficult to accept. It is annoying, because we can all think of instances, in some parts of the country, in which people complain and moan but have not done the work or put in the applications. Clearly, Tewkesbury is not in that category. It makes the effort and submits the applications, but for some reason it does not seem to be paying off. Why have constituencies such as Tewkesbury and Stroud lost out, and what can we as a Government do about it?

Clearly, the lottery reforms that we introduced were initially based on the idea that, first and foremost, lottery distributors are independent and take their decisions on individual awards without interference from Government. We all accept that we do not want that to happen and that it would put Ministers in an invidious position if we were making the decisions. Government can and should influence the broad framework within which the distributors operate, through legislation and policy directions.

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In our White Paper in 1997, we published an assessment of how the lottery should change. We said that we would like the benefits of lottery money to be more widely spread, and that there should be greater confidence that money was allocated fairly across the country and to different groups in our society. We wanted money to be spent according to a strategy that takes account of assessed needs, and we wanted decisions on individual grants to be taken closer to the grass roots and the area where the money would be spent. Those objectives are reflected in the National Lottery Act 1998 and in the new policy directions to lottery grant distributors. Clearly, some of that--and, in certain cases, all of it--has not yet permeated through to the grass roots.

In many ways, Tewkesbury is disappointing. The reality is that, if they have lost out on funding at the beginning, it will take several years before such constituencies reach what is regarded as the average level. It is important to remind hon. Members that in the early days of the lottery there was an almost exclusive emphasis on capital funding. In the first full year of its operation, 97 per cent. of the total money distributed was spent on capital projects. That inevitably favoured certain areas of the country--large towns and cities and, indeed, London--because they had a wide range of facilities in need of refurbishment or because they could easily provide, in the first year, the visitor numbers necessary to justify new building.

We changed that with the new policy directions for distributors, which shift the focus from bricks and mortar to people, activities and access. By this year, funding for capital projects had fallen to 42 per cent., while the number of small grants under £5,000 had more than doubled to more than 24,000. The hon. Gentleman will know that, of the 85 awards that Tewkesbury received since the lottery started in 1994, more than half were made in the two years since the lottery reforms were introduced. The effect of the capital revenue shift is to bring many more groups into the net, and, I hope, to spread the benefits of the lottery more widely. The effect of the capital revenue shift is to bring many more groups into the net, and I hope to spread the benefits of the lottery more widely. The statistics for each area will remain imbalanced for some time as a result of the early capital awards, some of which were, by today's standards, very large.

Vauxhall--my constituency--has received a huge amount of lottery money, much of it for huge capital projects. Although local people may have benefited from them, they have been of national benefit. However, just because my constituency has received more than a lot of others, I do not think that my local community has benefited unfairly. Although that does not help the people of Tewkesbury, it helps to show that, although some constituencies receive more money, more people use facilities in the capital, so the money has actually been more evenly spread across the country.

Another important effect of the legislation was to allow distributors to delegate decisions to regional and local level. There must be controls on how the money is spent, but it is not ideal for somebody in London to be making decisions about a drama group or theatre in Tewkesbury. It is therefore encouraging that the Arts Council has now devolved decision making on applications of up to £100,000 to the regional arts

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boards, and that national lottery regional awards committees are being given powers to award grants of up to £1 million. The awards for all schemes for small grants is going from strength to strength, and is set to continue until at least March 2002. I hope that this delegation will help to make a lasting impact on how lottery money is spread throughout the country.

Originally, lottery funding could occur only on a reactive basis, which meant that lottery distributors were busy dealing with a large number of applications from well-organised groups soon after their establishment. In those circumstances, it was difficult to pay attention to the fact that the number and value of awards varied considerably between different parts of the country. That has now changed. The distributors are now asked to produce plans that specifically address the needs of their sectors. They can now actively encourage applications from certain groups or areas, and solicit applications if they do not appear spontaneously. That is why lottery distributors are increasingly targeting their funds on areas of need.

If funds are to be targeted, it must be done wisely and on the basis of information. That is why the monitoring exercise is important and why debates such as this, in which individual hon. Members raise their concerns, provide crucial feedback. We must also be clear about why areas such as Tewkesbury are losing out.

To find out more, as hon. Members know, my Department and the lottery distributors commissioned research from Sheffield Hallam university into the problem of areas of low take-up, which showed that various types of area were losing out, such as the coalfields and mixed rural and urban areas. Both the hon. Member for Tewkesbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud have large rural areas with pockets of urban areas in their constituencies, as well as resort and retirement towns. The research identified several problems, including the size and complexity of application forms, which place a heavy burden on many community and voluntary groups unfamiliar with the language required to complete them. The practical advice and assistance needed to steer people through the process was often not available.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud regarding bad advice. It is unacceptable that people's hard work and effort is wasted because wrong advice is given. Within the Sports Council, I am trying to ensure that we use the two-stage process, in which a group should be told early if its application is clearly not going to get support, so that it does not spend the money, waste its efforts, or become disillusioned.

Mr. Laurence Robertson : That is an extremely important point. I used to work in charity fundraising and I know the importance of getting an early indication of the refusal of an application. One application in my constituency took two years to prepare, and was turned down. It was probably obvious in retrospect that that would happen, but it resulted in two years' wasted work.

Kate Hoey : Absolutely. Clearly, money will never be available for every single application, so there will be disappointments. We must, in a sense, manage those

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disappointments, so that the people who are turned down are turned down early on or directed to a different approach. Feedback is crucial, too; I cannot understand why we cannot be open and transparent about the reasons for turning down an application, and I make a point of finding out such information as regards sport applications. Sometimes, there is a good reason.

The example of the swimming pool raises the question of how we can create good facilities in rural areas, while recognising that it is impossible to give every little village a swimming pool. I want swimming's governing bodies to state their aims and work closely with the regions and local communities.

Mr. Robertson : The village whose swimming pool application was turned down has a population of at least 10,000. Although I accept that a village of 150 people cannot necessarily expect a lottery grant for a swimming pool, that particular area, parts of which are deprived and which has a fairly large population, should have been considered more seriously.

Kate Hoey : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look into that swimming pool application to discover what we can learn from it.

The cross-distributor group was established to consider the problems raised in the report and explore ways in which to ease the burden. I hope that Tewkesbury, along with Stroud, will be involved in that process and will benefit from it. QUEST was commissioned by the Secretary of State to investigate the cost of applications for lottery funding. The results of that first phase were published in August. Distributors welcomed the report and are working hard to simplify the process, especially for small community groups.

Application forms are already smaller, shorter and simpler. Previously, there were applications that were too large to fit on one's desk. The application referred to by the hon. Gentleman is not too bad in that respect--I have seen some that are 10 times bigger. The heritage lottery fund and the Arts Council have been awarded the Plain English Campaign's crystal mark for application packs produced this year. That simplification will make life easier for groups that formerly had to struggle to fill out pages and pages.

A joint national helpline has been introduced that will make a difference in co-ordinating bodies so that a group does not fall between one lottery distributor and another. That will ensure that the buck is not passed and that no distributor will be able to say, "It's nothing to do with me, go and ask the other one." If all distributors co-operate, community facilities used for both art and sports may have a heritage involvement. It is important that there is much more--in that awful phrase--joined-up thinking between lottery distributors.

Local authorities can clearly do more. A huge range of intermediary groups can provide support to help with applications. The Chief Leisure Officers Association has recently worked with the Local Government Association and my Department to produce guidance for local authorities, telling them how they can help more and have a phased strategy for working with distributors.

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Although my response in this respect may not answer the specific points made by hon. Members, I want to convey the sense of change that is taking place across the country in how the lottery funds are distributed. I understand the frustration expressed in towns such as Tewkesbury and Stroud, in which people have worked hard on good applications with comparatively little success. I say comparatively, because there have been successes: the new clubhouse for Tewkesbury rugby club, the Tewkesbury after-school care scheme and the new minibus for the Tewkesbury and District Wheelchair Bus Association.

Those are all awards to be proud of, but more should be done to spread the money fairly throughout the country, and the Government are committed to that. I will continue to monitor what is happening in the region and in the constituencies of Tewkesbury and Stroud, to ensure that the changes that we have predicted come about. I am grateful to both my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and, especially, to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury for raising the matter and giving us the opportunity to discuss it.

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