Lottery payouts run into fresh controversy

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The Independent Online

More than 600 charities will hear today that they are to receive around pounds 40m of lottery money, but the Government has found itself embroiled in fresh controversy after revelations that organisations representing asylum seekers in Britain will be beneficiaries in the first round of awards.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, also fended off criticism from Richard Branson that the National Lottery was being "driven not by fun but by greed" and had fallen into "the same disrepute as the 'fat cat' bosses of the privatised utilities". She accused Mr Branson, who bid unsuccessfully against Camelot to organise the lottery, of sounding like a "disappointed loser".

The National Lottery Charities Board will this morning announce the first round of lottery handouts designed to tackle poverty.

Among those expected to receive money will be a London-based group which advises Eritrean refugees and immigrants on benefits, medical treatment and legal services. It will receive pounds 91,000.

A spokesman for the board said yesterday that a total of 627 charities tackling poverty in Britain will be awarded pounds 40m today. A further pounds 120m of awards would be announced in December. "A much greater range of small and larger organisations throughout the UK working to alleviate poverty will benefit. The types of groups include those working with children, young people, the disabled, elderly ... and many others," the spokesman said.

Mrs Bottomley said the lottery had raised millions of pounds for worthy causes around the country. However, the Government announced last Friday that it is to monitor the effect of the lottery on donations to charities. Charities complain that they have lost pounds 330m since the lottery began.

There was further criticism at the weekend that the south of England was being favoured in terms of lottery awards, and the heads of the five National Lottery boards have now met with Mrs Bottomley to discuss ways to ensure that future awards are equally spread.