Smith gives Lottery job to former mandarin

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Indy Politics

The battle between Sir Richard Branson and Camelot to run the National Lottery is to be decided by Lord Burns, a former Treasury mandarin who headed the recent inquiry into fox-hunting.

The battle between Sir Richard Branson and Camelot to run the National Lottery is to be decided by Lord Burns, a former Treasury mandarin who headed the recent inquiry into fox-hunting.

The Government yesterday appointed the former permanent secretary to the Treasury to the National Lottery Commission, which will select the next operator of the draw. The Government also made clear it would not interfere in the selection process, although there is increasing concern within Whitehall about Sir Richard's People's Lottery bid.

Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, said Lord Burns would have control over who gains the new licence to run the draw.

"I wish to give you a clear remit, with the other commissioners, to conduct the selection process with absolute fairness and impartiality between the applicants," Mr Smith wrote in his letter of appointment. "There can and will be no ministerial or political interference."

Lord Burns' appointment was welcomed by Camelot, which successfully challenged in the High Court the commission's ruling that it would enter exclusive talks with Sir Richard.

"We welcome the appointment of such a distinguished figure to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the commission," said a Camelot spokesman. "We look forward to meeting with him and hope he can allay our concerns about a process that was condemned in the High Court."

In August the Lottery Commission rejected the rival bids, but decided to continue exclusive talks with the People's Lottery for one month. However, last month the High Court overturned that decision as "conspicuously unfair" and ordered the commission to give Camelot a month to improve its offer.

Because the bidding process has been delayed, Camelot may be given a temporary extension to its franchise, lasting two or three months, to ensure there is no break in the operation of the lottery next September.

Mr Smith made clear to Lord Burns that he was taking over "at a particularly challenging time.

"What I have made clear, however, is that I am determined that there must be no interruption in the smooth running of the lottery and I look to you to take all necessary steps to achieve this," Mr Smith wrote to Lord Burns.

Lord Burns, who will be paid £48,000 for a three-year tenure, recently chaired an investigation ordered by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, into fox- hunting. He was a senior Treasury civil servant for 18 years, serving first as chief economic adviser during the Thatcher years and later as permanent secretary until 1998.

"We're pleased an appointment has been made and look forward to a swift resolution of the bid process," a spokesman for The People's Lottery said.

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