HC Deb 25 March 2002 vol 382 cc550-3
5. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

If she will make a statement on the progress being made to ensure a fairer distribution of lottery funds following the introduction of the fair shares policy. [43146]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

Fair shares is a major initiative designed to target funding at the deprived areas that have benefited least from the lottery. The Government will continue to encourage lottery distributors to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from lottery funding.

Mr. Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. How many and what percentage of applications have been successful, and who decides?

Tessa Jowell

Fair shares is a new programme that is to start at the beginning of April. I announced it to the House two or three weeks ago. It is designed to meet a specific problem—namely, deprived areas that have received less than the average share of lottery funding. I announced a further consultation on the future of lottery distribution last week. I believe that we will go further and take steps through the distributors to ensure that every part of the country receives the entitlement to lottery funding that those throughout the country who play the lottery have the right to expect.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the cardinal principles stated in the 1997 White Paper on the lottery was hat it should be operated through an arm's-length procedure, free from Government interference. The lottery has now operated for several years with a surplus of several billion pounds, but that money has been tied up with red tape, with the result that worthy applicants cannot access the funds. That gives the lottery a thoroughly bad name. Will the right hon. Lady investigate and ensure that the bureaucracy and red tape binding the lottery are rapidly diminished so that applicants can get the money that they deserve?

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman confuses several points in his question. I assume that he is referring to lottery balances—the money held in the national lottery distribution fund on behalf of the distributors. Almost all this money is overcommitted: it awaits distribution to specific approved projects.

There are delays in getting the money out. Two weeks ago I announced to the House the objective, agreed with the lottery distributors, of ensuring that current lottery balances—in excess of £3 billion—should be reduced by one half by 2004. The distributors are signed up to that objective. I believe that it will be an important way of maintaining public confidence in the lottery—confidence that the public's money is being well spent—and that people will continue to play.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Is it not the case that the west midlands and east midlands have been poorly treated in relation to lottery distribution? If and when the Wembley project fails next month, as it deserves to, would not a way of bridging the gap be to reallocate the project immediately, preferably to Coventry or perhaps to Birmingham? Did my right hon. Friend see the comments in the Evening Standard next week about Wembley? The Standard said: The transport links are dreadful, the surroundings grim, the whole area unequipped to handle major sporting events. It is nostalgia gone mad. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the comments of that London-based journalist?

Tessa Jowell

Let me take issue with my hon. Friend on both parts of his question. First, it is not the case that the east midlands and west midlands have done badly from the lottery. Parts of the west midlands have certainly received less than their fair share; they are among the 51 areas that will benefit from the fair shares programme. On my hon. Friend's second point, the development of the Wembley stadium is a Football Association project, funded by the lottery. It is not for Government to intervene and pull the plug or anything else on a national stadium project that we hope will succeed.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Although I wish the fair shares initiative success, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to say that it will not prejudice in any way the quality or worthiness of applications for lottery funding? Will she give an assurance, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was asking, that there is a strong case for making applications simpler? I was involved with one on behalf of a charitable trust; we experienced extraordinary difficulties in seeking to apply for funds for a particular project.

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman is right; it is important to be vigilant about reducing bureaucracy. That was one of the points in the proposals that I set out last week, and includes lottery distributors being more collaborative and working together to enable local community groups and other organisations that wish to submit bids that do not fit clearly with one distributor to do so. The awards for all scheme is a good example of that kind of collaboration.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

Given the dispute between English Members about the site of a new football stadium, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better if money were saved and teams were invited to play in Glasgow or Cardiff, where they would be assured of a warm welcome? The money thus saved could be spent in areas like my own, where many constituents have particular difficulty with the complexity of the forms. Ordinary working-class volunteers find it immensely difficult to fill in all the forms and jump through all the hoops, which deters many of them from making an application. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be far better not to waste that money in England but to spend it in Glasgow instead?

Tessa Jowell

I note my hon. Friend's observation. I only add that yes, of course much more can be done by the distributors to solicit applications from parts of the country that have not yet put in bids. I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen), who has led a group of Members on both sides of the House in driving forward the determination to ensure that every part of the country and every community has the opportunity to benefit from the lottery.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

May I echo the sentiments of the Minister for Sport about the tragic loss of Ben Hollioake, a talented young cricketer whose potential will never be realised?

Last week, at Southwark cathedral, the right hon. Lady made an announcement which, she stated, was extremely important; it is regrettable that a similar statement was not made to the House. In that announcement, she mentioned that lottery funds are £3.5 billion underspent. Precisely how will that be allocated? Will the fair shares policy mean that there will be fairer distribution of those funds? Can she guarantee that they will be distributed in an objective, non-partisan and apolitical way, and that a balance will be reached, as she promised the House, between urban and rural areas, as rural areas have lost out greatly in the distribution of lottery funds?

Tessa Jowell

May I try to clear up some confusion that the hon. Lady clearly has, which she also had when she spoke on behalf of her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), in the debate two or three weeks ago? Money in the lottery balances is not underspent. It is money that has been committed to projects, but that has not yet been spent. It is not free and unallocated; it is waiting to be spent—on projects under the fair shares policy, in coalfield communities, and so forth.

I have made absolutely clear the Government's determination to bring pressure to bear on the distributors to ensure that the level of lottery balance, which I believe to be unacceptably high, is halved over the next two years.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Hamilton receives one of the lowest amounts of lottery funding. Therefore, on behalf of my constituents, I thank her for including south Lanarkshire in the group that will be targeted under the fair shares policy. What kind of publicity will there be to ensure that local charitable organisations are given the opportunity to apply? If there is such a campaign, when will it run?

Tessa Jowell

My hon. Friend raises an important point. This is a matter for the lottery distributors, but he touches on an important gap. In deprived communities particularly, where there are not large numbers of voluntary organisations and active civic organisations, there is often simply not enough awareness of how the lottery works, how it can be accessed and what it can do. It is that information gap that we need to overcome. That will in turn ensure that our objective of every community benefiting from the lottery will be achieved.

Back to
Forward to