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7 Feb 2006 : Column 241WH—continued

Lottery Grants (Gloucestershire)

1.29 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate after weeks of trying, but I rather regret the need for it. The Minister for Sport will know why I say that, as he was kind enough to attend the previous debate that I obtained on the subject on 8 May 2002. Indeed, that was my second debate on the issue; the previous one was on 20 December 2000, when the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) replied for the Government. I met the Minister after that debate to discuss the problem. Many years on, it remains my concern that organisations in my constituency get very little money relative to the rest of Gloucestershire.

I welcome the fact that my neighbours in Gloucestershire get a lot of lottery funding, and I wish them well; they have obviously submitted a lot of good applications, and I hope that they continue to be successful. However, if I go through the figures, the Minister will see the cause of my alarm. Since the start of the national lottery there has been about £125 million in grants—

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : It is billions.

Mr. Robertson : To Gloucestershire, I mean. There have been grants of £125 million or thereabouts to organisations in Gloucestershire. If Tewkesbury were to get the same amount as other constituencies in Gloucestershire, it would get some 16.7 per cent. of that money. I accept that there will be variations, but it currently gets only 4.49 per cent. That figure is very slightly up since last time I held a debate on the subject, when it was 3.4 per cent., but at this rate I calculate that it will take us 44 years to get up to the average. We now get the very slightly increased 4.49 per cent., but it is not acceptable that organisations in Tewkesbury should lose out to that extent. Tewkesbury has received only £5.6 million, whereas if we were to get the average, the figure would be something like £21 million.

Let me compare the figures for the other constituencies in Gloucestershire. Cheltenham has received nearly £23 million; Cotswold £25 million; Forest of Dean £10 million; Gloucester £38 million; Stroud almost £24 million; and Tewkesbury only £5.6 million. The point is that we are not even remotely close to amounts received in other constituencies; if we got 12 or 13 per cent. of the money coming into the county, I probably would not have held three debates on the subject.

The natural response, which I have heard in the past, has been to ask whether organisations in Tewkesbury are actually applying for sufficient numbers of grants. Well, it is difficult to tell these days. When I held my first debate, the figures were available from the Government, and they showed that Tewkesbury was applying for plenty of grants. By the second debate in 2002, those figures were not available from the Government, and I have not been able to access them in any way, so I cannot answer whether organisations in Tewkesbury are applying for as many grants as those in other parts of the county. As far as I know, those figures are not available, although they certainly used to be.
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I can cite a number of grant applications that have been turned down. As far as I can see, they were very good applications indeed. Tewkesbury sports centre had two failed bids. It is based at a successful school that takes children from all kinds of backgrounds. The school serves some areas that are perhaps a little more prosperous, but it also serves areas such as Priors Park, which is undergoing a great deal of regeneration, and Northway, where there are ongoing problems with youths on street corners. The school is ideally positioned to help those people, yet the sports centre has had two failed bids.

The Jet Age museum has made at least one bid, perhaps two. As the Minister will be aware, it is in the area where the jet engine was invented. There is a good deal of heritage about the museum, which deals with an important part of our history. I have visited it on a number of occasions, and it is very well run indeed. A number of enthusiastic people are involved with it, yet it has not been able to access lottery money. Nor is it based in the most prosperous of areas.

Tewkesbury and District Council of Voluntary Services had an application turned down. That was to support various voluntary organisations in the borough, such as a support-for-the-elderly day care centre. It would have brought together a whole range of voluntary agencies.

Churchdown sports centre's bid failed, too. I have mentioned that before. The reason given for its failure was that it was within 20 minutes' drive of a similar facility in Gloucester. The point I have made in the past is that children do not drive, or should not, and if they get a lift from their parents, it means four journeys—that is, going there and back twice. That is at a time when we are supposed to be reducing car journeys and building sustainable communities. The reason given for that failure is not acceptable. As a result of the failed bid, the sports centre is struggling, and the borough council wonders whether it can continue to support the centre, the very existence of which is now in question.

It would be a very retrograde step if that sports facility were lost; I want to press that home to the Minister. Churchdown is still technically a village, but it has a population of some 10,000 or 11,000, depending on how wide one makes the count. It is an area with a lot of young people, and they need something to do. It is not over-endowed with facilities. I deeply regret that that organisation did not manage to get the grant, and that it is struggling now.

To go back to 2002, Tewkesbury got a little bit of money under the fair share initiative, but it was way, way down on the list. I have looked into the new scheme, and it seems that Tewkesbury will not be one of the areas that will benefit. I am the first to say that the national lottery has been a great success. In my notes, I have put it in brackets that it .was a Conservative success, but it would not be right to dwell on that. The lottery has raised £18 billion for good causes, and I understand that 220,000 projects have succeeded. Indeed, there has been some success in my constituency.

Only recently in a village called Bishop's Cleeve a new sports area was opened by the very famous Sir Geoff Hurst; it was a great privilege to have him in the village, although he lives in Cheltenham now. It was a successful day and he was very popular, and the new facility is very
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good. In the village of Twyning, where I happen to live, there is a very good sports facility, although I played no part in attracting the money. I am not in any way knocking the national lottery or saying that we have not had any benefit at all; we certainly have, but not the kind that we deserve.

When I explored this issue in the past, the question was raised of how we determine where the money should go. One of the issues that has been put to me is that of deprivation: areas that are deprived should receive more funding than those that are not. I accept that there is a certain logic to that, but the problem is how we measure deprivation. One problem is that when a fairly large area is assessed, there may well be pockets of deprivation, although the whole area may not be deprived according to all the measures. That is one problem that we have had in Tewkesbury.

A lot of rural areas are deprived. The area that I represent is very rural; there are some built-up areas, as I have mentioned, but there are pockets of rural deprivation, too. There are many small villages without any shops or facilities at all. Quite often, public transport between villages is very poor. There are quite poor rail links between Gloucestershire as a whole and London, for example. There are trains, but it may be surprising to hear that one often has to change at least once in the journey from Cheltenham to London. That is rather surprising, because Cheltenham is a main town and a lot of things go on there, yet the rail link is poor. There is a better rail link north of my constituency, which goes up to Evesham—it is not particularly brilliant, but it is better—but there is not a good link between Gloucestershire and London. We have a problem there.

There are a lot of farmers in my area, and farming incomes continue to fall. Quite a number of rural post offices have closed, and, if I may be controversial for a moment, the hunting ban has not helped the countryside. I put that very gently. A number of rural pubs in my area are also very concerned about the proposed smoking ban.

There are pockets of deprivation in my constituency. People perhaps think of Tewkesbury as a good Tory seat, which must be rich, but that is not so. It is a mixed area: there are prosperous parts, but there are also many areas that are not. If we are using deprivation as a measure of where to send the money, we need to look more closely at Tewkesbury.

There is also the heritage aspect. The battle of Tewkesbury took place in 1471. As a Lancastrian, I do not want to say the wrong side won when the Yorkists got their last great victory of the war of the roses—we got our own back at Bosworth field. There is great heritage in the town. The townsfolk got together and collected money to pay off King Henry VIII, and the famous Tewkesbury abbey survived. Two rivers meet there—the Severn and the Avon—and we have lots of rich history. However, we need some help from funds, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Even under the Heritage Lottery Fund, however, Tewkesbury comes bottom of the league in Gloucestershire. We cannot even get the funding for heritage. We are bottom of the league in terms of
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charitable organisations and arts funding. With millennium funding, we are fifth out of six, but only by £2,000. We are fifth in sports funding, by some £2,000. In health, education and the environment we come fifth, but by only £3,000. In virtually every way we look at it, Tewkesbury comes bottom of the Gloucestershire league. If we look at the six headings—arts, charity, heritage, millennium, sports and health, education and the environment—and the six constituencies, making a multiple of 36 different bids, we come last almost every time.

I genuinely do not know why this is so. Organisations in Tewkesbury have submitted applications, but some that failed were good and solid and not in any way frivolous, and an awful lot of work went into preparing them. I can personally vouch for those organisations. Those applications failed, but throughout the county millions of pounds has gone to organisations in other constituencies.

I want to finish where I started. I wish the successful organisations well, and I am pleased that they have received funding, but I think that the Minister will agree that the 4.5 per cent. of the funding that we receive in Tewkesbury does not look right—it seems unfair—and is only a slight increase on the 3.5 per cent. that we got when I last had this debate. I hope that I do not have to return to the Chamber to take up hon. Members' and the Minister's time by complaining yet again. I am more than happy to meet the Minister or his officials to discuss how we might assess what is going wrong, and how we might decide how to put it right.

Perhaps the Minister or his officials might find time to help me in that respect. For now, I should like him to give me whatever answers he feels he can. I am grateful to him for turning up. I know that he has many other issues to deal with, but I stress that we have seen great benefits coming from the very few projects that have been financed in Tewkesbury and I want to extend that to the other applications that have been made on the part of the people of my constituency.

1.45 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr.   Robertson) on securing the debate. I shall try to answer some of his questions. When we met last night in the Strangers Bar, Sheffield United lost 4–1 to Watford, so it was a bad evening. I have recovered since then, however, and I shall hopefully give him positive answers.

As the hon. Gentleman said, this is not the first time that he has taken the opportunity to ask questions about his constituency and national lottery funding, and, as he rightly said, this is not the first time that I have had the privilege of speaking on the subject. He obviously cares deeply that his constituency should be taking every opportunity to reap the benefits of lottery funding.

I should like to put on the record straight away that if the hon. Gentleman writes to me about his concerns about applications being turned down, I shall get my officials to write to the various distributors—the Heritage Lottery Fund, or whatever—and find the official reasons why they were refused. That might be helpful.
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The national lottery has become one of the most successful lotteries in the world. Since 1994, it has raised in excess of £18 billion for good causes and more than 224,000 grants have been made to projects all over the UK. Lottery funding has made the greatest difference in our communities. In fact, 65 per cent. of all lottery grants have been for small amounts of money—sometimes less than £5,000—which spreads the benefits of lottery funding far and wide. Although a £5,000 sum probably does not seem a lot, to many organisations such an amount has had major effects and they have done tremendous work with it.

Nearly half the total amount of money awarded has gone to projects in the 100 most deprived local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about that. The distribution of national lottery funds was never intended directly to match the population pound for pound in each constituency or region, but it was intended to respond to particular needs by ensuring that grants are made to projects that would not normally be funded through taxation and that areas of significant disadvantage are the first to benefit.

Our policy and the policy of the previous Government is to encourage the fair distribution of lottery funding across the United Kingdom—not that every county or constituency will receive the same amount. We recognise that not all areas of the country are the same. Rural and urban areas have different needs and these differences can cause a variation in funding which is inevitable, particularly for larger grants. The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point about his constituency and I shall look into it. I shall look in particular at the Churchdown sports centre to see what the reasons were for turning it down.

Throughout the life of the lottery we have recognised that changes needed to be made to ensure that lottery money is spread fairly throughout the country and to reflect the different groups in our society. The hon. Gentleman may be familiar with the measures that we have taken, but I think it is useful to remember how we have responded to make lottery money more accessible for all. We changed the lottery's original emphasis on capital grants to spending on people and activities and we have opened up access to lottery funding. We gave the distributing bodies the power to solicit lottery applications from priority areas to address concerns that some areas lacked the infrastructure or skills to put together an application. I do not know whether that is a problem in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but we will consider it. We also gave the distributing bodies the power to delegate decision making to regional and local level, enabling them to be more responsive to local needs We tasked the distributing bodies to draw up a strategic plan for funding to ensure that lottery money goes to areas and projects that need it most.

The distributing bodies have also responded to the challenge. The Community Fund's fair share initiative initially delivered £180 million of lottery funding to 77 specially targeted disadvantaged areas in both rural and urban areas of the UK. Other specific initiatives have targeted former coalfield areas and seaside resorts. Those measures have had the right effect. For example, by the end of 1998, Tewkesbury had received just 33   lottery grants worth a total of £722,000; during the following five years, from 1999 to 2005, it received 188 grants totalling £4.7 million, an increase both in the
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number and value of grants, although, as the hon. Gentleman's figures demonstrate, the area could still do considerably better.

Part of the problem is that the information on lottery grants to individual constituencies does not tell the whole story. For example, if a grant is given to an organisation whose headquarters is in a particular city, it will be credited to that city, although its benefits might be felt in a much wider geographical area, and sometimes across the whole of the United Kingdom.

The situation can be difficult to gauge. Looking at the statistics for my constituency of Sheffield, Central, it seems that we get many more grants than anybody else. That is not because I happen to be the Minister with responsibility for the lottery, but because grants are made to places in the city centre that benefit not only Sheffield but the whole of south Yorkshire, and sometimes north Derbyshire as well. How the funds are distributed should be factored into our considerations.

Each application is assessed on its merits against criteria laid down by the distributing body, but because there are always more applications than can be funded, the process has to involve an element of competition. Some projects are unsuccessful. Many times my ministerial colleagues and I are asked to intervene in lottery applications, but we are unable to do so because lottery distributors are responsible for making decisions on individual grants and are independent of the Government.

Government policy directions set only the broad framework within which the distributing bodies operate. The directions require them, for example, to have regard to the different parts of the UK, encourage sustainable development, and reduce economic and social deprivation, while creating benefits. Often the problem is that particular areas do not put in many applications for lottery funding or apply for small amounts, and although their success rate can be very good, they do not do as well as other areas that have submitted more applications.

Many of the provisions of the National Lottery Bill, currently under scrutiny in another place, will add to the measures that we have taken to improve the distribution of lottery funding. The Bill will set up a new distributor—the Big Lottery Fund—as the one-stop shop for voluntary and community grants; enable all lottery distributors to promote the national lottery as a whole, rather than their own good causes; and allow the distributing bodies to involve the public in decision making, so that local people have a say on where lottery money goes. It might go, for example, to good projects with community support that will enhance their community's quality of life.

There is no quick fix for constituencies or regions that feel that they are not getting their fair share of lottery grants. However, it is important to remember that lottery funds are finite and dependent on receipts from the national lottery game. That means that the majority of programmes are over-subscribed and that there is always strong competition for grants. The distributing bodies have to make difficult decisions to ensure that the funding available to the good causes is used most effectively.

The national lottery has evolved over the years to meet better the changing needs of applicants and ensure that more communities have access to lottery funding.
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We will continue to monitor the situation and we will try to deal with problems if they occur. As I said, if the hon. Gentleman writes to me about specific grants that have been turned down, my officials will contact the various lottery distributors to find out why, and I hope that the problem will be rectified. However, that will have to be done within the funding structure under which the lottery operates because the final decisions are taken by the lottery distributors without interference from the Government.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels reassured. There is no doubt that the lottery is a success story; it is one of the most successful lotteries in the world. I acknowledge
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that it was brought in by the Conservatives. At the time, some of my hon. Friends voted against it, as did the Liberals, but now we have all accepted that it is an incredible institution that does tremendous good up and down this country.

We have tried to refine the lottery, and this time we have refined it against a background of wide consultation. The fact that it is played so frequently shows that it is a credible institution in itself. If we continue to refine it as we have over the years, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have to bother securing any more debates on the subject, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.

Question put and agreed to.

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