The first moment of fun and enjoyment came yesterday, when the Prime Minister made a speech promising to give away pounds 9bn of the lottery takings to good causes: the arts, charities, sport, heritage and the Millennium Fund for special projects to celebrate the advent of 2000. Clearly, the arts and heritage are in for a bonanza.
But shouldn't others be sharing the cake? John Major yesterday appealed for a 'national outbreak of lateral thinking' to come up with ideas for the Millennium Fund. Taking his cue from the former heritage secretary Peter Brooke, he offered us visionary grands projets on the scale of Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower. And he threw in educational bursaries, possibly new university chairs. 'Some lateral thinking,' he said, 'is needed.' But rather more lateral, I suspect, than he has in mind.
Of course, most citizens who take pride in their country will want to see inspiring buildings, world-renowned cultural centres such as opera houses and art galleries, and charities being able to benefit from gambling.
But the public may not be as enamoured as the Government with grands projets. What about some petits projets that would affect all citizens, not only those who live in big cities or attend cultural and sporting events, and not just projects that are encased in brick, steel and glass?
What about, for instance, lottery money being used to build a network of youth clubs to give a nationwide alternative to the pub culture that seems to take hold at the age of 15? Or funding for a term in a foreign country for every secondary school pupil on an exchange basis? Even swimming lessons for every child, now that up to a quarter of primary school children no longer have access to a swimming-pool in school time.
Readers can no doubt come up with many other suggestions. But if the public does not make its wishes felt soon, the millions of pounds that the lottery will realise will leave the pattern of daily life fundamentally unchanged.
The National Lottery, which will create a millionaire a week on prime-time television, at last puts us in line with the rest of Europe, with a fun use of gambling that can enrich the country. No one can argue with that. Yet not everyone seems to be as happy as Mr Major was yesterday. One who has misgivings is Denis Vaughan, the head of the Lottery Promotion Company, an independent lobbying group on lottery matters.
Mr Vaughan is taken aback by the profits that will be made by Camelot, the consortium chosen by the Government to run the lottery, which includes Cadbury Schweppes, Racal, ICL, De La Rue and G Tech. He says: 'Up to pounds 200m could be lost a year, which should go to prizes and the good causes. The charges quoted for ICL (for the technological hardware) - pounds 100m over seven years for servicing a maximum of 35,000 terminals - are pounds 65m more than the three competing firms. That's enough money to finance nine symphony orchestras at pounds 1m a year each, over seven years.'
Even the sober trade journal Arts Management Weekly complains in a front-page article: 'Nobody would expect the thing to be a free-for-all for artists, owners of stately homes, soup kitchens and whizzo festivals. But neither is it meant to be a honey pot for cute businessmen.'
Labour's heritage spokeswoman, Marjorie Mowlam, is also concerned. Labour will be watching, she says, 'to ensure that the lottery funds are neither channelled to Tory marginal constituencies, nor allocated disproportionately to the big cultural institutions at the expense of smaller, grassroots arts, sport and charity organisations.'
The five bodies distributing the lottery money are the Arts Council, chaired by the former Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Gowrie; the Millennium Commission, chaired by the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Stephen Dorrell; the Sports Council; the National Heritage Memorial Fund, chaired by Lord Rothschild; and the National Lottery Charities Board, chaired by David Sieff, a former Conservative Party treasurer.
The arts world, having shed its reputation for unworldliness during the painful Eighties, is making use of expensive PR firms and consultants to mastermind its bids for lottery money and Millennium Commission money - often bidding for both, despite government insistence that the two funds should be kept apart.
In London alone the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, South Bank Centre, the Tate's new museum of modern art, the Royal Albert Hall, the Science, Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums are all preparing multi-million-pound bids. These include a beguiling mixture of the necessary (upgrading ancient buildings) through the arguable (a pedestrian precinct linking the Royal Albert Hall to Hyde Park) to the absurd (the English National Opera bid includes changing the distinctive blue auditorium of the London Coliseum back to its original red, even though the red was designed for a music hall, not an opera house).
Increasingly, the bids are coupled with threats of closure in the event of a decision going against them.
And yet there are other projects just as necessary, such as a national dance house, or a concert hall for the North-east. Indeed, why not celebrate one art form in which we lead the world, with a national rock music venue which could uniquely provide comfortable seating, good acoustics and plentiful car- parking? Thanks to the anomalous rules that have been drawn up for distributing the proceeds, these eminently suitable suggestions cannot be put forward by the lottery distribution bodies: they must await applications.
Referring to the lion's share of lottery money that will be spent by the Millennium Commission, the Arts Council's former secretary- general Anthony Everitt says: 'Has anyone got any bright ideas about what to spend this money on? Well, no. What is worse, the commission, which is chaired by the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Stephen Dorrell, is not even allowed to have any. Dorrell's predecessor, Peter Brooke, ruled that it should not 'solicit particular applications'. A nice case of shooting oneself in the foot.'
The Government also intends, all too inevitably, to encourage a Millennium Festival. It is hard to believe the Millennium will not be celebrated with some sort of jamboree: frequent official references are made to the 1951 Festival of Britain. That event captured the public imagination as a symbolic release from the war and the succeeding years of austerity. A Millennium Festival, likely to be a mixture of Edinburgh Festival and Notting Hill Carnival writ large, with corporate packages attached, will carry no such emotional significance.
The Government would do well to remember its own words in the Millennium Commission strategy document, written by Peter Brooke earlier this summer: 'If the projects we support are to stand the test of time they must be for the man or woman in the street. It is, after all, their playing the lottery that will provide our income.'
Precisely. The lottery money, every last penny of it, will come from punters, in their local shops, post offices and petrol garages, buying their lottery tickets. Yet the public voice is not being heard or sought in the run-up to the great spending spree. If it were, people's priorities might turn out to be smaller but more vital than another Sydney Opera House.
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