Posts Tagged: Big Lottery Fund

It’s hard to see through the fog surrounding the future of the National Lottery

One of the most vexing issues on the voluntary sector landscape right now is the future of the National Lottery.

The government wants to reduce the amount of good causes money awarded by the Big Lottery Fund from 50 per cent to 40 per cent.

Considering that the BLF has given £3.6bn to mainly charitable projects since 2004, you might have expected this to be greeted with howls of protest.

But the sector’s response so far has been fairly muted because nobody knows quite what the impact will be.

Ministers claim charities will actually benefit. While the BLF’s slice of the cake will diminish, they say, the overall size of the cake will increase when Olympics-diverted funds return after 2012.

They are also proposing that all BLF funding goes to not-for-profit organisations. Currently, a minimum of 80 per cent must go to voluntary groups although the BLF says the actual figure is 92 per cent. The remainder goes to statutory projects, which under the last government led to allegations of ministers using the lottery to fund pet projects.

Ministers also point out that, although the proportion of lottery money going to the BLF will decrease, the proportion going to arts, heritage and sports distributors will increase and a good deal of this will go to charities.

It’s a persuasive argument, yet a sense of uneasiness remains. Last week Navca and the Directory of Social Change called on the overall amount of money going to local voluntary and community groups to be preserved.

When Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, was in opposition he was fond of using the phrase ‘smoke and mirrors’ to describe Labour’s policies and statements.

It’s hard to see through the fog of this one.

Read more on It’s hard to see through the fog surrounding the future of the National Lottery…

The ideology behind changes to National Lottery funding is sound but the logic isn’t

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed yesterday what the sector has been expecting for a while: the Big Lottery Fund’s share of National Lottery good cause money will be cut from 50 per cent to 40 per cent and arts, sports and heritage groups will increase their share to 60 per cent.

Read more on The ideology behind changes to National Lottery funding is sound but the logic isn’t…

Funding the Future conference: policy was thin on the ground as Nick Hurd recycled his jokes

Shadow charities minister Nick Hurd announced to delegates at the Funding the Future conference yesterday that he was going to tell them something they might know already.

“There’s going to be a general election soon.”

It was not the first time he’d made the joke. He said it last week at an Institute of Fundraising conference, and Third Sector colleagues tell me he’s said it on other occasions too.

But if there is going to be an election, it would be reasonable to expect both Hurd and charities minister Angela Smith to use yesterday’s conference – at which more than 1,000 charity workers were gathered – to promote manifestos detailing what they would do if they became third sector minister after the election.

But alas, this was not the case. Smith took to the podium first, and gave a potted history of Government policy on the voluntary sector, which sang the praises of the NCVO’s Funding Central website, the recession action plan and Grassroots Grants (but neglected to mention the axed £750,000 Campaigning Research Programme).

She spoke about “challenges and opportunities for us all” and “building long-term capacity” but, aside from mentioning her excitement about the forthcoming social investment wholesale bank, did not discuss future policies.

Nick Hurd’s attempt offered more, but not much more. He reiterated his belief that the third sector should really be the “first sector”, said charities and community groups were the “glue that holds communities together” and criticised what he called Labour’s “initiative-itis”.

On policy, he said the Tories would start with making it easier for charities to claim Gift Aid, by cutting through what he called a “thicket of regulation”. But he said discussions on bringing in an opt-out system were “not going anywhere.”

He said he wanted to encourage individuals to donate more to charity, and he wanted the Big Lottery Fund to be more independent of government. He also wanted to develop a “culture of intelligent grant-giving,” he said.

But the audience was not swayed. As I left the hall, I heard delegates saying Hurd “didn’t say anything proper” and was treating the occasion as a job interview. Those I spoke to afterwards seemed unanimous in the view that things would be difficult under another Labour government, but that it was “better the devil you know”.

Read more on Funding the Future conference: policy was thin on the ground as Nick Hurd recycled his jokes…

A New Year wish for the social investment bank

So this is Christmas. And with another year over and a new one not yet begun, the pre-Budget report tells of untold riches in dormant accounts to be used to fund a social investment wholesale bank and projects for young people.

The latter will be routed through the Big Lottery Fund. I just hope – I really, really hope – that we’re not going to parcel this up and shovel it out as bog-standard capital and short-term, fixed-life, project-focused revenue grants.

Why? Because the ills of the funding status quo are so deep and well worn that they threaten to see off what Christmas cheer I might start to be feeling.

Let’s remember that the insistence on tying grants almost exclusively to short-term deliverables means that some of society’s most valuable work takes place in profoundly unstable institutions, because charities are over-stretched and under-capitalised.

In our crazy, dystopian status quo, immediate outputs are prioritised over long-term outcomes; funding is insufficiently flexible to respond to changing circumstances; planning horizons are typically limited to one or to three-year cycles: and because key staff are not retained, core knowledge and competence is lost.

Funding follows connections and charisma, not necessarily effectiveness. There is no incentive to outperform, because restricted funds are clawed back in the event of efficiency gains, or leveraging of other income. Demands for unrealistic exit plans concoct the fiction that complex, deep-seated problems can be solved in arbitrary, fixed and short time frames.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

A number of funders have made great strides. The Big Lottery Fund has shown itself pretty adept at smart investment.

So what I really, really want this Christmas is for the Big Lottery Fund to look over the brow of the hill to those folk who’ll be getting excited about the social investment wholesale bank, and think hard about what social investment can teach us all.

In the past decade, a range of agencies, such as Venturesome and The Impetus Trust, have pioneered techniques for social investment. Perhaps too often we’ve focused on loans. For my money, the principle of investing in the underlying and long-term strength of institutions, not just the projects they carry out, is what really counts in social investment.

So when it comes to unclaimed assets, any investment in young people is going to be infinitely stronger if it’s informed by the patient-capital approach of social investment.

Happy Christmas.

Read more on A New Year wish for the social investment bank…