Public ‘to choose projects for lottery funding’

People playing the lottery will be able to vote for which local projects they think should receive funding, under a new scheme unveiled today.

The proposals, which will be tested with up to five projects in two regions this summer, are designed to counter criticism about the government’s use of lottery cash.

Twenty-eight per cent of lottery money currently goes towards good causes, with the rest going towards operating costs, profit and to the chancellor. Half of this ‘good causes’ money is set aside for sports, arts and heritage projects.

The remainder – 14p in the pound – funds education, health and environment projects, but this has been controversial, with many arguing that the Treasury is using lottery money to pay for things that were traditionally its responsibility.

In January, former Conservative prime minister John Major accused ministers of “larceny”, saying there had been a “deliberate muddying of the waters” between government and lottery revenues which enabled the Treasury to raid lottery coffers.

Under the pilot schemes unveiled today, however, culture secretary Tessa Jowell said the public would have more of a say in where lottery money goes, so they can “see the public value of the lottery at work in their own communities”.

“It is vital that the public feel that they have a genuine sense of ownership of the national lottery and real power to shape decisions and influence outcomes,” she said.

“We have already made the lottery more responsive to the views of the public – the tick box pilots and decisions about how lottery money is spent over the next ten-year period take that a step further.”

She also announced that the division of money between sport, arts, film and heritage good causes would remain the same for the period 2009 to 2019, after a public consultation revealed widespread support for this.

Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster welcomed this guarantee that lottery funding for these good charities “will not be further undermined”, and said greater public involvement could act as a further safeguard.

But he added: “The government’s tick box plans must truly promote informed participation and be proven as more than a cloak of democratic legitimacy hiding Labour’s slow takeover of lottery funds.”

When the national lottery was first introduced in 1994, it was governed by the key principle of additionality, which meant funds could only be used for projects that were outside of the responsibility of central government.

However, the 1998 National Lottery Act introduced a new ‘good cause’ – on top of the existing ones of sports, the arts, heritage, charities and millennium projects – which was for “innovative projects in health, education and the environment”.

Speaking earlier this year, Sir John warned that this new remit allowed the government to divert lottery funding into projects that taxpayers would “rightly expect” to be funded by the Treasury.

At the time, however, Ms Jowell rejected the claims, saying the expansion of the ‘good causes’ meant the lottery had a “broader appeal”.