Camelot fears staff exodus

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The Independent Online

Camelot, the National Lottery operator which is fighting with Sir Richard Branson's People's Lottery for the renewal of its licence, is facing a staff crisis in the final months of its current contract.

Camelot, the National Lottery operator which is fighting with Sir Richard Branson's People's Lottery for the renewal of its licence, is facing a staff crisis in the final months of its current contract.

Sir George Russell, chairman of the consortium, fears that much of Camelot's 800-strong workforce will be tempted away when their contracts expire in May. Because of the delay in the awarding of the next licence, Camelot is expected to continue running the game until January 2002.

He confirmed that Camelot was planning to provide bonuses for staff who stayed on, equal to a week's pay for each extra month worked. These arrangements will add £4m to Camelot's wage bill. However, a Camelot spokesman emphasised that all the bonuses would come out of shareholders' money and charitable donations would be unaffected.

The revival of Camelot's hopes of victory continued on Friday when the National Lottery Commission, which has to decide between the two bids, announced that both were now suitable to "go forward for full evaluation". This follows the commission's decision in August to disqualify Camelot because of the performance of GTech, its systems supplier, a verdict that was successfully challenged in the High Court. Dame Helena Shovelton, then chairman of the commission, resigned to be replaced by Lord Burns, the former Treasury mandarin.

The commission's statement has been interpreted as an attempt to put itself beyond the threat of legal action. It said: "We will consider which bid is likely to secure the most proceeds for the National Lottery Distribution Fund without preconceptions and without regard to any conclusions that it reached on this issue before the announcement on 23 August."

Camelot is understood to have been reassured about the existence of a level playing field. But doubts remain about the status of its Europe-wide lottery, which it hopes will raise £1bn for UK charities.

Camelot is confident the game's contribution will be included in the calculations of the commission, which has to decide which bidder is offering the highest donations. A decision is expected next month.

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