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The National Lottery and the non-profit sector

2.1.3 The Lotteries Board—Professionalism and consistency
 
Another very widely shared view is that applications for funding are not dealt with in a professional and consistent way. To a significant extent, this attitude is born out of the circumstances in which the Distribution Agencies were constituted. As noted above, the Agencies were only established a year after the inception of the National Lottery. Prior to this, little or no thought seems to have gone into how the money would be distributed, and what principles would govern distribution. The call for public nominations to the Distribution Agencies was cursory, at best, and there has not been an open public debate as to how the money raised through the Lottery should be distributed.

Applications submitted to the Distribution Agency are not always acknowledged, and frequently get lost. When organisations attempt to find what has happened to their applications, they complain of being passed from one person to another. Perhaps most significantly, decisions by the Distribution Agencies are never explained. Unsuccessful applicants receive cursory, one-line letters, in which they are informed of the Agency’s decision and invited to re-apply next year. Some applications are partially funded, but no explanations are offered as to why this is the case, or even as to what part of the proposal the money is intended.

The Lotteries Board acknowledges that its decision not to provide reasons for the success or failure of funding applications was an error, and have promised [20 May, 2002] to do so with the current (2002-2003) round of applications.54 As with other related promises, there is no evidence to suggest that the Board is able to honour this commitment, and recent rejection letters continue simply to inform applicants that they “did not meet the criteria.”

This failure to explain why or how decisions are reached helps reinforce a more general concern with the consistency of decisions taken. For example, there is considerable unhappiness amongst the welfare sector about the fact that some organisations had their applications for funding turned down on the basis that they had financial reserves or Trust funds, and were thus not in danger of immediate closure, whilst other organisations with financial reserves were granted funding.

This perception may well be incorrect, and there could be a good reason why the decision not to fund organisations with financial reserves was not applied consistently. Once again, if there was greater transparency in the way the Agencies operated, and if the reason for funding decisions was explained to all applicants, then this concern may well be addressed.

In order to function in a consistent and transparent fashion, it is vital that the Board change its attitude to the non-profit sector it serves. To do this, it is clear that the administrative capacity of the Distribution Agencies will have to be enhanced considerably. In theory, staff members at the Central Distribution Agency are expected to perform most of the legwork, sifting through and pre-screening applications, and presenting these to the nominated representatives for each category.

In practice, staff shortages at the Lotteries Board, as well as a lack of sector-specific skills, mean that the members of the public nominated to each of the Agencies have had to take on board a huge administrative role. In the first round of emergency applications, for example, Agency members in the charities sector went through all of the 3,000 applications themselves. This is a complete waste of their time, and makes nonsense of the Lotteries Board’s claim to have established a viable and professional distribution system.

Footnotes:
  1. Interview with Sershan Naidoo, 20/05/2002
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