Allegations that lotto payouts favour regional political allegiances

There are indications that tens of millions of pounds in British lottery 'charity' payouts are being decided upon in a way that gives more to Labour supporting regions than those with other political allegiances, claims an expose in the Sunday Telegraph this week. The expose was informed by statistics acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.

The article reveals that the constituencies of ruling party Labour MPs receive a substantially higher proportion of payments from lottery profits for projects than those of other political parties. In a study of the lottery, the newspaper found that when it comes to payouts for projects of GBP 1 million or more, the Big Lottery Fund distributed its cash predominently to Labour areas last a ratio of four to one.

And the top five multi-million pound payouts all went to Labour Party constituencies.

The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) which is headed by Sir Clive Booth, a Labour supporter, is also accused of funding "politically correct" projects in the article. Recent grants included GBP 414 017 to Friends, Families and Travellers, a Brighton-based group that seeks to end discrimination against travellers.

The BLF hands out GBP 600 million a year of Lottery money — plus a smaller amount from other sources — to voluntary groups, public bodies and companies for projects involving education, health, sports, the environment and charitable causes. The statistics show that last year the organisation's governing body favoured 74 Labour constituencies in its 117 top handouts, with Conservative and Liberal areas getting 20 payouts apiece, and Scottish or Welsh nationalist regions receiving only 3 disbursements.

The board of trustees that decides on where payouts should go falls under the authority of the government's Department of Culture, Media and Sports. The 11-strong board consists of a Labour leaning chairman and four other Labour Party supporters, together representing the strongest political component on the board.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, commented to the newspaper: "These figures underline the need for Lottery funding to be politically neutral. One of the most important jobs for an incoming Tory government will be to make the Lottery independent of government in terms of how it spends the money and who sits on its board."

The biggest recipient of BLF largesse in 2008 was the Labour seat of Islington South and Finsbury, which received GBP 24.1 million. It was followed by four more Labour seats: Watford, (GBP 10.4million), Holborn and St Pancras (GBP 9.8 million), Glasgow Central (GBP 9.4 million) and West Ham (GBP 9.2 million).

The Sunday Telegraph points out that the GBP 62.9 million received by these five seats alone was greater than the GBP 55.9 million paid to all 20 Tory seats on the GBP 1 million-plus list, or the GBP 54 million paid to the 20 Lib Dem seats.

An analysis of the projects funded by the BLF showed that these included public health programmes, library provision and community play areas. Critics claimed that many of these should be funded from taxation rather than "charity".

Answering the newspaper's charges, the BLF said its focus on the neediest communities meant that more grants were given to deprived areas, which tended to elect Labour MPs. In addition, some areas attracted larger grants because they were home to the headquarters of big charities that operated across a wider region.

A spokesman said: "The notion that the political allegiance of an area influences in any way our funding decisions is absurd and we reject the intimation outright."

In an editorial, the newspaper declared: "The composition of the committee that decides who will get how much does not help to persuade the public that the body is completely neutral. Five out of the 11 people on it are either Labour members or supporters. It would take only one other member of the committee to be a Labour supporter for there to be an in-built majority in favour of the governing party.

"The case for changing the make-up of the committee is obvious and powerful. The public cannot be confident that the Big Lottery Fund never allows any consideration of political advantage to affect its funding decisions while it is so heavily made up of people who are explicitly connected to one political party. The Government must ensure that funding decisions are seen to be fair, and made on a basis that ordinary people can understand and respect. That requires ensuring that those making them are not tied to Labour."

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