Lord Burns rejects call to sack lottery commissioners

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The Independent Online

The new chairman of the lottery regulator has rejected calls for the dismissal of the four lottery commissioners partly blamed for the chaos which has hit the next national licence.

The new chairman of the lottery regulator has rejected calls for the dismissal of the four lottery commissioners partly blamed for the chaos which has hit the next national licence.

Lord Burns, speaking publicly for the first time since becoming chairman of the National Lottery Commission, said the four had valuable experience and the integrity to properly evaluate the competing bids.

He confirmed he had considered their offers to stand down after Dame Helena Shovelton resigned as chairwoman three weeks ago. That followed a damning High Court ruling on the regulator's handling of Camelot's bid.

"I have told them to remain in their posts as it is in the best interests of the bidders, players and good causes," he said. "The commission has accepted that it made a mistake and the important thing now is to ensure no other mistakes occur."

He said an announcement on the "preferred bidder" for the next lottery licence could be made in mid-November if Camelot or The People's Lottery failed to satisfy the basic criteria for running the national game. But if, as is expected, both bids meet the key tests of "due propriety" and protecting players interests, the final decision would be made in mid-December.

The timing is likely to further delay the start of the next licence, due on 1 October 2001, until 1 December next year or 1 February 2002. As a result, Lord Burns said the commission would now start talks with Camelot on a temporary extension to its present licence.

Since both bidders claim total returns to good causes will rise by a half to £15bn, that would also mean a cut in the expected increase in income for good causes of up to 50 per cent during the interim licence.

Lord Burns's announcement had mixed messages for both bidders. He said that if their bids go through to December, the final decision will be based on returns for good causes. The People's Lottery, chaired by Sir Richard Branson, is understood to have out-bid Camelot by up to 6.9 per cent on money to charity.

But Camelot, which had criticised the commissioners' failure to resign en masse and threatened further legal action, said it was heartened by Lord Burns saying both bids would be thoroughly re-evaluated "without preconceptions".

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