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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
When is a cause a good cause?
The National Lottery Commission wants the next licence period to yield yet more cash for good causes - funding that has long been the most controversial element of the lottery.

Had the lottery never happened, South Yorkshire would now be without its now-defunct 15m pop music museum.

For many people that would be no bad thing.

The National Centre for Pop Music in Sheffield, built with 11m of National Lottery cash and launched last March amid a fanfare of hype and expectation, has slumped to the status of "white elephant".

Sheffield's pop music museum
Rock folly: Sheffield's pop music museum
The museum closed late last month, dogged by poor attendance figures and financial woes.

It heads a growing list of so-called lottery follies that include the Earth Centre in Doncaster and the Centre for Visual Arts in Cardiff, set to close after less than a year in operation.

Just 47,000 people visited the 9m inter-active gallery in 11 months, less than a quarter of the original forecast.

Right from the word go, funding for "good causes" has been the most controversial aspect of the National Lottery.

The charges include elitism, regional bias, incursion into areas of tax funding, lack of accountability, and ill thought-out plans.

Among the most controversial grants have been:

  • 399m for the Millennium Dome, plus top-ups of 60m and 29m
  • 78.5m towards the extension of the Royal Opera House
  • 12.5m for the state to buy Winston Churchill's papers
  • 17,500 for the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood to do up her home

And while supporters will claim these are but a pinprick compared to the 54,700 projects that have received lottery funding, the bad publicity sticks.

Awards by region as of spring 2000
East Midlands: 4,066 projects, 305m (7.43% of total)
West Midlands: 4,058 projects, 497m (7.42%)
Yorks and Humbs: 3,838 projects, 470m (7.01%)
Eastern: 3,099 projects, 361m (5.66%)
London: 5,648 projects, 2,074m (10.32%)
South-east: 4,941 projects, 540m (9.03%)
South-west: 5,924 projects, 528m (10.83%)
Merseyside: 923 projects, 173m (1.69%)
North-east: 2,934 projects, 339m (5.36%)
North-west: 3,429 projects, 558m (6.27%)
Scotland: 8,393 projects, 689m (15.43%)
Wales: 4,846 projects, 381m (8.86%)
Northern Ireland: 2,542 projects, 257m (4.65%)
UK-wide: 72 projects, 11m (0.13%)
Lottery Monitor figures
Ironically, part of the problem with funding lies in the lottery's runaway success. The distributing bodies were left with more money than they knew what to do with.

Five "good causes" had been identified as beneficiaries: sport, the arts, charities, millennium projects and national heritage. Each had its own distributing board.

But tight stipulations governed the issuing of grants. They were available for capital projects only and had to be matched with other money.

For those savvy enough to negotiate the complex grant application process, it was a feeding frenzy.

Among the first to benefit were Britain's crumbling institutions - museums, art galleries, theatres, historic buildings - which had been long starved of public funds.

The awards to the Royal Opera House, Tate Modern, the Royal Albert Hall and the purchase of the Churchill papers soaked up 21% of all good cause money in the first year.

And despite charges of a bias in favour of London and the south-east, depressed urban areas snapped up funds for tourism projects.

The result has been an overkill of grand projects, chasing too few visitors.

In some cases, consultants have been wildly optimistic with projected attendance - at times, even pulling figures out of thin air, says Barbara Bloomfield, editor of Lottery Monitor magazine.

Tax by another name

In 1998, the government passed fresh legislation intended to make the lottery more relevant to more people.

Money is now available for revenue, not just capital, expenditure and there is more flexibility on partnership ratios.

Average lottery awards
1995: 214,602
1996: 222,259
1997: 140,435
1998: 120, 807
1999: 47,078
Culture Secretary Chris Smith also launched initiatives such as Awards for All, which made grants up to 5,000 easier to access.

However, his announcement of a sixth good cause - the New Opportunities Fund - proved to be highly controversial.

The NOF's remit to fund health, education and environment initiatives determined by the government, led to accusations that lottery money would take the place of eroded tax spending.

It marked the biggest threat so far to the principle of additionality, whereby all lottery spending should be additional to, not instead of, funding through taxes.

Above criticism

At the end of the year, when the Millennium fund is wound up, the NOF will be the most powerful lottery quango, with rights to a third of good cause revenue.

Tate Modern
Tate Modern: Success story
Initially it has committed to helping tackle social exclusion - paying for after-schools clubs - and boosting cancer research. This is a stroke of genius, says Ms Bloomfield. The causes are too worthy to criticise.

But in the corridors of local government there are fears that funding which was once a given will soon have to be fought over. And eventually the public may grow to distrust a system that could see schools losing out.

Just as the government looked to be getting a grip on the thorny issue of funding, critics say it may have spawned the biggest lottery folly of them all.






BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
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23 Aug 00 | Business
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