The lucky ones win

How is lottery money shared? By giving most to those institutions favoured by the wealthy, a new study shows.
The Heritage Lottery Fund is run by elitists who ignore the poorest communities while providing massive grants to a few projects of minority interest, according to the 1997 National Lottery Year Book, published next week by the Directory of Social Change. It is described as the worst of the five specialist bodies distributing the Government's share of lottery income to good causes.

Where John Major promised the lottery would provide "benefits for all", in practice the Heritage Lottery Fund has mostly benefited the rich, the book's authors, Luke FitzHerbert and Lucy Rhoades, say. By dispensing half its money to museums and galleries the fund shows it takes a narrow view of what constitutes heritage, turning its back on the activities and interests of the majority.

"It's a rotten system," Luke FitzHerbert argues. "The grants go to where they are least needed. The places that need it most are disqualified from getting it.

"The fund has failed to recognise that our 'national treasures', mainly in museums and galleries, are only a modest part of our national heritage. The fund has failed to bring support for the heritage to the country as a whole, but has spent its money mainly in the capital cities or in the already best protected rural areas."

While many impoverished districts have not received a penny from the fund, the South-east, and London in particular, has received generous grants. Where the North-east has been allocated pounds 1.85 per person, the figure for the South-west is pounds 8.32, and for London it is pounds 19.44. The richest areas of the country on average get half as much again from the fund as the poorest areas, according to the book's figures.

The Directory of Social Change, a respected charity support agency, says the key problem is how the nation's heritage is defined. It believes the Heritage Lottery Fund should accept a responsibility to improve the whole country's heritage by funding environmental improvements and helping the most deprived areas achieve a better quality of living.

"It is extremely unfair just to distribute money to areas that are already best in heritage terms," Mr FitzHerbert says. "For one-fifth of lottery money to go like this is deeply offensive. If it will not do so itself, the incoming government should require the fund to reverse its whole approach - to set most of its money aside, on a fair basis, for local allocation in close consultation with those who live in the area concerned, and to reserve just an adequate portion for the support of centralised national institutions and for the interests of specialist enthusiasts.

"For most people, their heritage is their local church and its grounds, the nearby countryside and its farm buildings, a fine old pub, their town centre, a well-built school, their Victorian public buildings, or just a few green corners preserved when their locality was built over. These parts of our heritage are under a far greater threat than the contents of our national galleries or museums."

Research by DSC indicates that few applicants to the Lottery Board are asked how they will improve access for poorer people. Instead they are required to produce a business plan showing that their future is secure. That creates pressure, DSC argues, to introduce admission charges, reducing access for the poor.

The criticisms are rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund's director, Anthea Case. "Following the directive to all lottery distributors, we only request business plans for projects over pounds 500,000," she says.

"This is to safeguard our responsibility to the public, by ensuring that lottery monies are funding financially viable projects. We would be extremely concerned if lottery grants resulted in new or increased admission charges.

"The fund has made 783 grants totalling pounds 555,946,653, in a direct response to applications which reflect the diverse interests and concerns of people throughout the UK. Projects range from nature conservation, the restoration of canals, historic buildings and railway engines to the improvement of museums and galleries, cathedrals and churches. We will shortly be announcing the first round of grants made to urban parks, a programme which will benefit a wide cross section of the population."

Ms Case also rejected complaints that too much money has gone to London. "It is inevitable that substantial grants will be made to the 'home' of national institutions, which by their very nature attract a huge audience from both home and abroad. Apart from these 'nationals', London has received just 7 per cent of our grants."

Publication of the book was designed to coincide with the Charities Fair, rather than the general election, but DSC will be happy if the way the lottery money is used becomes an election issue. Even a system of voluntary taxation is a matter of public policyn

'The 1997 National Lottery Year Book', by Luke FitzHerbert and Lucy Rhoades, is published by the Directory of Social Change at pounds 19.45.