Jowell says TV viewers should decide on more lottery funding

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Indy Politics

The heritage makeover television show Restoration is to become the model for allocating more funds from the National Lottery under a Bill published yesterday.

Lottery funding for sports facilities and the arts could be allocated by viewers voting for their favourite schemes on television. Ministers believe the popular programme, fronted by Griff Rhys Jones, has already helped to restore public confidence in the lottery.

Millions of viewers voted directly for the buildings they wished to save with heritage lottery funding: £3m in lottery money went towards the restoration of the Victoria Baths in Manchester for the first series; a further £8m was given to the runners-up for restoration. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, told The Independent that her office was negotiating with broadcasters about other programmes to extend the Restoration schemes to the arts and sports.

She said: "We are looking at how we might award grants on Restoration-style programmes with public participation - you could do it with the arts, and sport.

"We are also looking at the possibility of people ticking boxes when they buy their lottery tickets for how they might like money spent in their region. All this is about strengthening the relationship between lottery players and the good causes." The Government wants to increase confidence in the lottery by getting people more directly involved in how the money is spent, she said.

Publication of the Lottery Bill revealed that Ms Jowell has dropped her proposal to break up the rights to run various lottery games. She proposed the overhaul after a public outcry over the way the renewal of the licence was handled in 2001. Camelot secured the rights after a protracted battle with Sir Richard Branson's People's Lottery.

The Bill says the lottery games will continue to run under a single licence. It also merges several funds into the Big Lottery Fund, which was set up in June and gives ministers the power to prevent surplus funds remaining unspent.

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the Bill raised "grave concerns" about political interference. He said: "It appears that this legislation will require the new Big Lottery Fund to comply with the Government's wishes. There is no duty to consult with the voluntary sector, or anyone else outside government."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said the Bill would give the Government much greater powers over how cash raised by the Lottery was spent. "The National Lottery is fast becoming Gordon Brown's lottery," he said.

Rejecting the criticism, Ms Jowell said the Government was seeking to distance itself from lottery fund allocation. She said the lottery's future was part of a bigger debate for a Labour third term about how the Government could allow people to make their own choices over public services. "Beveridge identified five giants to be slain in pursuit of progress. The one he forgot and is still striding this country is poverty of aspiration," she said.

The Culture Secretary will publish a five-year plan in January that will focus on widening choices in culture, sport and the arts for children. She will also call for art galleries and museums to forge greater links with schools.

She added: "At times of insecurity and uncertainty, culture is an enormous source of comfort. It wasn't by chance that after 9/11, the galleries in New York saw an increase of 50 per cent in the number going to them."