any thoughts on this
The Lottery has become a farce
David Mellor in the Evening Standard
As one of the founding fathers of the National Lottery, I hardly dare
open a newspaper these days. I'm bound to read something that makes my
blood boil and then find the Lottery is funding it. Last month it was
the revelation that almost £70m has been given to help so-called
refugees, most of them bogus, with some of the benefiting groups
little better than political fronts, and with the bare minimum of
checks as to how the money is disbursed. Heaven knows where some of it
actually ends up. Last week it was brave Simon Weston, severely
wounded in the service of his country, pointing out that while all
this money has been spent on people who have done nothing for our
country, all veterans' organisations struggle to get any grants out of
Then this weekend came the last straw; news that a daft old fanatic
called Gerry German is getting £200,000 from the Lottery to roam the
country stopping disruptive children getting their just deserts. You'd
think that two pupils making more than 40 death threats to a teacher
would guarantee expulsion. Not while Gerry German and the people from
the National Lottery Community Fund are around, it doesn't.
Gerry German thinks Osama bin Laden is worthy of sympathy and he
claims to understand the "anger" that provoked the 11 September
attacks. Don't the idiots who gave him the money read the stuff on
No wonder Lottery sales are falling, down five per cent in the past
few weeks alone. Inevitably the novelty has worn off as punters wise
up to the fact they've almost as good a chance of being hit by a
meteorite as winning a top prize. Nevertheless Dianne Thompson, the
chief executive of Camelot, which has the dubious honour of raising
the money for the National Lottery Community Fund to squander, is
surely right when she says publicity about some of the ways the money
is spent has helped undermine public confidence.
The original idea of the National Lottery was that everyone who bought
a ticket was a winner, because the money would go towards raising the
quality of life of everyone in this country - not just those who had
spent the previous night in the back of a cross-channel lorry.
Cultural and sporting facilities in every community were to be
improved, our national heritage better preserved, and the Millennium
appropriately celebrated with a host of useful new buildings. It
wasn't a bad prospectus; shame about the delivery.
As Chief Secretary to the Treasury when the Lottery got the go-ahead,
I knew full well that resources were needed to refresh the parts
public expenditure could not reach. For instance, however much I
wanted to help the arts or grassroots sport, it was difficult to
prefer investing in a new theatre or running track to funding more
life-saving treatments in the NHS.
But there's more to life than hospitals. Besides, a healthy lifestyle
helps keep people out of the hands of the doctors. So to me it made
sense to give everyone a sporting chance, so we could back our
world-class competitors from Cinderella sports with proper training
grants, which indeed has made the last Olympics and Commonwealth Games
such a success for Britain, whilst also providing recreational
opportunities for youngsters who will never be world-beaters but might
otherwise drift into delinquency.
Believe me, there was a real job, properly spent, for Lottery money to
do. And to some extent it has. Great opera houses and theatres have
been refurbished, like Covent Garden, and much other useful work has
But sadly, much of this has been overshadowed by other things. It was
never intended that charities should benefit. I thought it a nonsense
to suggest, as the charities did, that people buying Lottery tickets
would no longer put money into collecting tins, and a rain shadow for
charity fund raising would be created. I thought that was to grossly
underestimate the generosity of the British people. I also feared that
such a concession would be a Trojan horse, opening the door to all
manner of anti-social organisations getting money. And that
predictable (and predicted) outcome has now happened.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations threatened to
campaign against the Lottery unless they got their share. The Major
government, infirm of purpose as it so often was, gave way. And the
rest, as they say, is history. Sad history and a lot of it.
The Community Fund has repeatedly dragged the Lottery's reputation
through the mud by backing a range of pernicious causes. The
Government has frequently raided the till for things that should be
paid for out of public expenditure or not done at all. And a lot of
money has been wasted on projects that never had a hope of success,
like the wretched Dome. Who on earth would try to create a sort of
Disneyland in Docklands and ask a lot of civil servants to run it? It
was doomed from the start, and in all those ways a dream has died.
Now even the Government seems to realise it's the Last Chance Saloon.
This weekend they've been floating a lot of spin-doctor solutions,
like asking everyone who buys a ticket to tick a box saying where the
money should go. Hopelessly impractical, and likely to create yet
another bureaucracy wading through all that paper. Which will
presumably provide employment for the very people thrown out of the
Community Fund when, as I hope soon, it is abolished.
Time to recall a happy phrase, and get back to basics. The people who
buy the tickets would love the money to go to Cancer Research, the
Royal National Institute for the Blind or similar mainstream
charities. They would be happy to support cultural provision and
decent sporting facilities. There's no mystery about what people want.
They want the money to go to causes that would be regarded as good by
the overwhelming majority of sensible folk.
That's common sense. But as so often that's a commodity on which Tony
Blair and his ministers are having an each-way bet. They claim to be
in touch with public opinion while behind their hands giving the nod
to a lot of politically correct cronies to mis-apply the money.
When the Lottery legislation went through Parliament, the then Labour
opposition supported it. The original intentions of the Lottery to
improve our quality of life were their ambitions as well, and it is to
them they should return before it is too late. And if they don't, the
National Lottery will soon be as doomed and discredited as the Dome.