Election '97: Labour's lottery to help the NHS schools

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A pounds 1bn "People's Lottery" fund to support education and health projects would be set up by a Labour government, Tony Blair said yesterday.

The Labour leader joked that while his party could not guarantee that people would win the lottery, he would guarantee that their money went to the causes they really cared about.

He told an election press conference that the fund would be created from the proceeds of the current National Lottery mid-week draw over five years, and would be used to pay for new projects that fell outside services normally financed by taxation. "It will not substitute for what the taxpayer does," he said. "It will add to what people get."

But Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, claimed that the Labour scheme would threaten the success of the National Lottery, increase bureaucracy and undermine the concept that it should only fund projects additional to those already met by central government.

"Labour pledge the same money over and over again to different projects," she said. "The only clear thing is that their figures do not add up and it would all end in tears."

Illustrating the type of projects that would benefit, Mr Blair said some of the cash would be used to make sure that teachers had the skills to deal with computers in the classroom; finance children's after-school learning programmes; and set up healthy living centres.

Labour was also planning to use the "People's Lottery" fund to finance a national talent endowment scheme for science, technology and the arts, fostering new talent for the future. The endowment scheme, supported at the press conference by Rachel Portman, Oscar-winning composer of the music for the film Emma, and Anthony Minghella, director of the Oscar- winning film The English Patient, could be earning copyright revenues by 2001.

Miriam Stoppard, the writer and broadcaster, backed the plans for healthy- living centres; a network offering fitness checks and routines, and advice on diet and health, located in high streets, shopping centres and leisure centres.

Labour's national heritage spokesman, Jack Cunningham, said: "The lottery is very effective at raising cash, but people believe more of it should go to the things they think are important and which make a real difference to their lives.

"If the benefits are to be fully realised there must be a new, better approach to the allocation of the funds. We must ensure a more effective and equitable system for lottery awards. Awards such as pounds 13m for the Churchill papers and financial support for Eton College caused public outrage."

Dr Cunningham also said that there were enormous regional disparities in the allocation of lottery money, and, under Labour, existing funding bodies would be expected to demonstrate commitment to a geographically- fair distribution.

Existing rules worked against less prosperous areas and communities, he said. They would be made more flexible and Labour would also set up "Community Chests" across the country, enabling more people at a local level to influence the distribution and allocation of funds.