Overseas lottery aid `too low'

The pounds 25m given by the National Lottery Charities Board to overseas projects has been criticised as being too low by British aid groups working in the Third World.

Charities, including the Red Cross, Oxfam and Action Aid, are concerned that the figure is only a fraction of the board's overall pounds 2bn budget and does not reflect the public's commitment to overseas charitable work - which attracts 15 per cent of all donations.

However, the board which came under fire from the Prime Minister last week for supporting charities that work with gays, lesbians and prostitutes, defended the amount yesterday and denied it should be doubled.

Tessa Baring, a board member, said: "pounds 25m will not solve the world's problems, but if we ensure it is used effectively to tackle long term solutions we believe it can make a considerable impact."

The money, which will be distributed among long-term projects in Asia, Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean, may be revised next year, according to the board.

But Anna Feuchtwang, of Oxfam, said: "They've got a difficult balancing act, but whatever way you look at it, it's a very small amount. It should reflect public support for overseas aid." The charities defended the decision to send lottery money overseas against criticisms that it should be concentrated in Britain. It will benefit longer term projects, such as disaster relief campaigns, which do not traditionally attract public donations.

Dominic Byrne, for Action Aid, said: "We believe the board should have announced a grant programme of at least pounds 50m in line with public support."

Following criticisms of the allocation of grants, Tim Hornsby, the board's chief executive, will send a full report to the Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, this week, explaining how decisions were taken to fund a total of nine projects which included work with prostitutes, gay men and lesbians and deportees.

Mr Hornsby said: "We try to assess grants successfully, as we are legally obliged to do, and choose on merit."