Draft New Opportunities Fund (Specification of Initiatives) Order 2001

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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On what guidance does the new opportunities fund work in relation to health matters? When I was trying to obtain funding for a facility at my local hospital, I visited the new opportunities fund at its base in Holborn. From what I could gather, the relevant guidance is from the Department of Health, which is perfectly understandable. What discretion does the new opportunities fund have? Bearing in mind that it does not have a history of deciding on health priorities, will it receive guidance from the appropriate Departments?

Kate Hoey: The directions that the hon. Gentleman has been given show that certain criteria would have to be met before a project is even considered. In terms of current health service provision, the guidelines are clear: a project must provide something that is additional, extra and, perhaps, different, rather than something that should be provided as part of the health service budget. I will deal with the details of that later, especially if the hon. Gentleman wishes to address a particular initiative, rather than the issue in general.

A wide-ranging initiative to transform communities will receive £159 million of funding. That money will be used to help improve the appearance and amenities of specific local environments in urban and rural areas: for example, improvements might be made to public open spaces, the street environment or local heritage features.

Community-led bids will be encouraged and new opportunities fund money will be allowed to fund capacity-building activity. That will encourage people to have the confidence to come together to make the bids, if the programmes are linked to practical project work.

Funding will also be made available to expand community sector waste re-use, recycling and composting. Those projects will be led by the community sector, working in partnership with local authorities and others. I and many other hon. Members know of projects in our constituencies for which a small sum of money would make a significant difference. That is what we want to encourage: bottom up projects, rather than those that are prescribed from the top.

Fifty million pounds of the funding for the initiative will be made available to promote renewable energy sources, such as the building of generating capacity for electricity from energy crops and offshore wind electricity generation projects, and the development of small-scale biomass heat and power projects. That is not a subject that I know much about. Does the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) wish to enlighten me, because I am aware that he is an expert?

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Are the Government hiding behind their waste incineration policy, or will the initiative promote new and different projects?

Kate Hoey: The initiative is intended to explore different ways of generating renewable energy sources and to offer opportunities for imaginative schemes that will not jeopardise projects that are currently receiving mainstream funding. Fifty million pounds for the entire United Kingdom is not a huge sum of money, but small sums might help to pump prime schemes that could make a significant difference in the long term.

In Scotland, £10 million will be directed towards projects that explore new kinds of community rehabilitation for people who misuse, or have misused drugs. The Scottish Parliament will be able to make its own decisions on how that money will be spent, within the context of the directions.

Recently, the awards for all programme has been one of the most successful and popular methods of directing money to small groups. It gathers a range of resources in one pot. Distributors from all the lottery boards have joined forces to help support local groups. The aim is to fund groups that involve people in their local communities and to bring people together to enjoy sport, the arts, charities and heritage activities.

Until now, new opportunities fund money has not been directed to that programme. However, £60 million will be made available for the programme over the next three years. Funds of between £500 and £5,000 will be provided for a broad range of health, education and environmental projects. Some of the money will be made available to support projects to celebrate the Queen's jubilee in 2002. Those of us who are old enough to remember the celebration for 25 years—

Mr. Bob Russell: I can remember the coronation.

Kate Hoey: I can also remember the coronation. I think that it rained heavily because I could not see much when I watched it on my neighbour's black and white television—it was not a good picture.

In 2002, the Commonwealth games in Manchester and the Queen's Jubilee will lead to a major celebration, and the pump-priming money will help to support local projects and initiatives.

Public consultation on the initiatives has shown overwhelming support for our proposals. The creation of the new opportunities fund has already helped thousands of communities to improve their health, education and local environment. As Minister for Sport, I am particularly pleased that many initiatives imaginatively involve sport, have raised money from different pockets, and have worked closely with Government Departments. The most recent round of grants will make a real difference to school sport facilities and will help local communities to create a better environment and provide much needed care support.

I am sure that the public consultation that gave support to the proposals will be mirrored in the Committee and the House. I commend the order to the Committee.

4.51 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I thank the Minister for her detailed exposition of the matters relating to the order, which I am sure that all hon. Members will find a useful reference in the coming months. Some of the issues are detailed and complex. I do not want to detain the Committee, and I am perfectly content—in the absence of a silent one on this side—to indicate that we do not wish to obstruct the order. However, there are important questions to be asked, because we have differences of opinion on a number of the matters to which the Minister referred.

The Minister knows that we welcome support for sports and arts projects, especially projects in schools. However, sport and the arts are good causes as defined in terms of lottery money. We are perplexed about why all the money must be channelled through the new opportunities fund, rather than through existing sports and arts funding bodies. That seems especially relevant to paragraph 2(2)(b), which provides programmes for

    ``persons who have not attained the age of 18 years that involve sporting activities.''

That would be tailor-made for the sports lottery fund.

I noted the Minister's comment that there is a proposal—which we knew about anyway—to have 1,000 school sports co-ordinators in place by 2004. Will the Minister give us an update, either today or in future, about how many such co-ordinators are now in post?

We note that there will be match funding from the Department for Education and Employment. That is important because the majority, if not all, of the school sports co-ordinators will be trained physical education teachers. We have concerns about the use of lottery funding to pay teachers' salaries.

We support the proposals that relate to cancer and palliative care. However, we put down two markers. First, the sums are relatively small, compared with the £68 billion annual expenditure on the national health service. My father is currently dying of cancer. We all understand the importance of the matter, the emotions involved, and why the public support such investment. However, dealing with such matters is the prime responsibility of the NHS, although we all want maximum resources for the projects.

The second point, which leads on from that, is that that means that there is less money to divert to other charities. The National Lottery Charities Board is a significant loser from the creation of the new opportunities fund, because it now receives only sixteen and two thirds per cent. of lottery funding; not 20 per cent., as it did originally. All hon. Members will know of many deserving charities that have applied to the NLCB; there are insufficient funds to deal with all the applications. I spoke to the board again today to verify that that is still the case. There is a case for deciding which are the most deserving causes, but we delude ourselves if we fail to recognise that giving more money through NOF to cancer and other health charities means that other disabled charities will lose out.

On palliative care, the Minister mentioned children's hospices as potential recipients. Is she saying that hospices such as we all have in or near our constituencies, which deal with elderly, terminally ill people, many of which must raise significant sums through charitable enterprises, are not expected to benefit from the money? We may want to return to that.

The Minister made an important comment about what is additional to Government spending. She said that one of the schemes would provide teachers for pupils to be taught at home. Does that really represent additionality? Similarly, on child care, will the Minister—either today or later—confirm that what is proposed will not substitute for funding for programmes that should have Government support? We look forward with interest to the emergence of those schemes.

We value the proposal for NOF to support schemes in communities. As the Minister knows, we suggested that if and when we return to Government, we would like to establish a community fund. Given that NOF's money is largely derived from funding that previously went to the millennium fund, there is an opportunity for some imaginative thinking in that area. That is why we welcome schemes such as those set out in sub-paragraph (8)—small scale projects in local communities.

However, we have some queries about some of the items in sub-paragraph (7). The hon. Member for Colchester asked about a matter that I was going to raise: the heat and power and electricity generating proposals. When people buy their lottery ticket this Saturday at village stores in our constituencies, I am not sure whether they will be especially impressed by the thought that some money might be used to support a scheme to create offshore electricity. Will the Minister explain the thinking behind that provision?

We are entirely on-side and agree with the provision for open spaces and heritage features. We also welcome the reference to drugs—although again we wonder why that could not be supported through the National Lottery Charities Board. The NCLB supports an important drug outreach programme in my constituency that I started some years ago—it would have folded without such support. There is potential for confusion. People may not be clear from where they will get lottery support. For that reason, I welcome what the Minister said about the joint approach enabled by the awards for all programme.

No one is suggesting that the situation was perfect when the Conservative party was in office during the first few years of the lottery's operation—we all have experience of the deficiencies during that period. We want to encourage a joint approach and more co-operation between funding bodies. We particularly support what the Minister said about community projects for the Queen's jubilee. As she will know, we suggested some time ago that a jubilee fund would have been one way of dealing with the matter.

The arrangements in the order, and the directions are very prescriptive. We welcome the documents that the Minister placed in the Library—they are illuminating, but they prompt some questions. We would welcome confirmation from the Minister that deprivation affects not only urban areas, but rural ones. I have a suspicion that this stream of funding could be important in the various recovery programmes that will be needed after the eradication of foot and mouth disease. There are already several deprived rural areas that will experience greater difficulties as a result of the outbreak.

The Minister may not be able to answer the question directly today, but we would like to know how many years of NOF funding are covered by the arrangements in the order. In the case of the child care programme, the order refers to the period until 2006. It would be useful to know how much lottery funding has been committed by the arrangements.

As the Minister knows, we are concerned about the prescriptive nature of some of the funding programmes. The Conservative Government introduced the arm's-length and additionality principles into the lottery arrangements and the then Opposition were keen on them. We are concerned that those principles are being eroded.

I note the Minister's suggestion that a possible definition might involve whether schemes ``could'' or ``would'' have been funded. I understand what she is saying—I think back to the days when the Royal Opera house project was first funded using lottery money. Although it is unlikely that the project would have been funded by a grant from the Arts Council, it could, arguably have been funded in such a way. That is true of many capital projects. Whether a project could have been funded—whether by a local authority or a Government Department—but was not because of a lack of money, is a moot point. I am not convinced that establishing that means that the principles of additionality and arm's length have been upheld.

We shall monitor progress with care. The Minister knows that this is not entirely the route that we would have chosen. However, I would like to place it on the record, and ensure that the Committee is fully cognisant of the fact, that we would not abolish NOF if we were returned to government after the election. We would want to review the scope of NOF's activity, but we would certainly honour Government funding pledges made in the order. I have made that clear in respect of sport and the arts, and I am glad to have the opportunity to do so in respect of all the other various charities that the Minister has mentioned in the context of NOF support. Above all else—and it is important to register this point as well—none of this can happen unless the lottery continues to be a success, and people continue to play the game and buy their tickets.

The lottery has been through a difficult period, but I will not stray on to that because it is probably outside the remit of the debate, but it is worth stressing that the lottery must continue to be successful if any of this money is to come on stream and these projects are to be supported.

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