The National Lottery Charities Board yesterday denied fresh charges that its decision to award millions of pounds to organisations fighting poverty was misguided and "politically correct".
John Rafferty, the board's director in Scotland, said that the decision to award pounds 666,000 to the Strathclyde Poverty Alliance was "right and justified". Tory MPs criticised the award, the largest of the first tranche of grants announced on Monday, as politically correct because the alliance campaigns on issues such as the restoration of benefits to 16- to 18-year-olds and cold weather payments.
David Mellor, the former Secretary of State for National Heritage, and Phil Gallie, the Tory MP for Ayr, said that lottery funds would have been better allocated to organisations like the Royal National Institute for the Blind "who are doing good work in Scotland", instead of groups like the SPA which, they claimed, were "concerned with single interest politics".
But Mr Rafferty yesterday described the criticism as incomprehensible. He insisted that the SPA, which provides training for local community groups seeking to combat poverty in the west of Scotland, was a genuine charity recognised by the Inland Revenue. "The Strathclyde Poverty Alliance is a registered charity. Charities are not political organisations," he said. "The SPA does very valuable work. It met the criteria we set and submitted an excellent application. We were happy to support it."
He said that the Scottish Office recently provided pounds 33,000 for one SPA project. "This organisation is recognised by the Inland Revenue and directly supported by the Government in Scotland."
At the SPA's Glasgow headquarters Damian Killeen, its director, called the criticism "ill-informed". He said political campaigns and lobbying represented only "a very small" part of the alliance's work. It was impossible, he added, to avoid being accused of political bias when dealing with issues like poverty. "We are not a political campaign. Campaigns are only one of the things we do. It is part of any repertoire for addressing social need."
The vast bulk of the SPA's work was with members of its 500 affiliated community groups in the Glasgow area. The alliance provided training and skills programmes for people to enable them to lobby their local authorities and health boards. It also helped groups to set up food co- operatives, credit unions, and transport services in a region where three families in 10 are on income support.
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