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8 May 2002 : Column 114WH

Lottery Grants (Gloucestershire)

12.30 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I am pleased to secure this debate and thank the Minister for attending. I am listed to discuss lottery grants in Gloucestershire and, indeed, I want to do so, but I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for making particular reference to my constituency of Tewkesbury, as we have lost out considerably in the distribution of such grants.

I held a debate on 20 December 2000 to discuss this issue. I met the then Minister, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who was helpful. Since then, in spite of her gallant efforts, nothing seems to have improved for my constituency. I discovered at the time that organisations from Tewkesbury were applying for just as many grants as those from other constituencies and for as much money, but they were being turned down.

There are six parliamentary seats in Gloucestershire, and Tewkesbury applied for about one sixth of the money, which was right. We played the lottery as much as the other constituencies. One sixth is about 17 per cent, yet we received less than three per cent of the money coming to the county. That did not seem right.

The Minister and I discussed a number of the failed bids in detail. I was assured that the Government were considering improving the processing of applications and the way in which help might be given to applicants at early stages. Despite that, there has been no change in the amount of lottery grant coming to my area. Since the lottery's inception in 1994, organisations in Gloucestershire as a whole have received £83.7 million, yet only £2.9 million—3.4 per cent—has found its way to Tewkesbury. If we divide Gloucestershire roughly into six, we should have 17 per cent of the money, equating to about £14.2 million. Coincidentally, that is the national average for lottery grants to constituencies. We are nowhere near that figure.

To put the problem in perspective, neighbouring Gloucester has received £28.7 million and Cotswold has received £20.2 million. I do not begrudge those areas their money—if they have made applications and been given grants, good luck to them. It seems odd, however, that compared with £28.7 million and £20.2 million Tewkesbury receives less than £3 million. I wonder why.

When I looked into the matter, met the Minister, held a debate and discussed the problem with one or two heads of the departments distributing lottery money, one of the criteria given for distribution was deprivation. That is not a good measure. What does deprived mean? Does it mean that it is a poor area, or that there are few facilities or amenities? I mentioned that Cotswold has received £20 million in lottery grants. One could hardly describe it as deprived, yet it received seven times as much money as Tewkesbury. I stress that I do not begrudge Cotswold its money, but I would rather see a fairer share come to Tewkesbury.

If the word "deprived" means poor, many better-off areas have pockets of deprivation, but because of the way the calculations are made they are not recognised, particularly if those pockets straddle two electoral wards. Deprived may mean few facilities, but many

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wealthy areas have no amenities. Some well-off villages do not have a single shop—are they deprived? What exactly do we mean by deprived?

The calculation based on deprivation tends to centre on inner cities and towns. As I have asked before, what about rural poverty? I highlighted that in my last speech, but since then the situation in the countryside has got worse. Farming incomes have fallen further and foot and mouth has devastated the rural scene. I am pleased that the Minister is replying to this debate because he is also the Minister for Sport, and he may know that the Cheltenham race course is in my constituency. We lost the Cheltenham racing festival last year. That hit my area hard and should be taken into account in debating deprivation and the allocation and distribution of lottery grants.

I do not want to go too far into this subject, but my area, given its dependence on the racing industry and the national hunt race course, will be hit hard if the Government decide to ban hunting. I say that as someone who does not hunt, but the Government should be aware of that problem. I am sure that I will be called to order if I go any further down that road. In those circumstances, from where would the compensation come for my constituency? Would it come from lottery grants, or because of the way that it is calculated, would we continue to slip through the net?

The perception is that Tewkesbury is well off, but that is not true. It is not poor, but it is certainly not wealthy. Like many other areas, it has problems with drug pushers, drug users and people who commit crimes because they are taking drugs. It has a town—Tewkesbury itself—that needs regeneration because there are many empty shops. It is a wonderful place to visit, but it needs some help. Other areas have few facilities and the constituency also suffers from having excessive housebuilding requirements forced on it. It is all right to build houses, but that does not create a community. We must keep those people in the area to create a community, but if the lottery grants do not help the projects, that creates a further problem.

The south-west is generally not that well off. It is poorly served by the railway network, although many constituencies could claim that, and it loses out on funding for services such as education, health, policing and local government. In recognition of the unequal lottery distribution, the Government introduced a system for fairer distribution and identified 51 areas for targeting. Again, the criteria were that the areas had to be deprived and have received less lottery funding than other parts of the country. So far so good, but of those 51 areas, 50 had received more money than Tewkesbury. As I said, we have received less than £3 million, while Brent, which was targeted for more money, has received £138 million. Portsmouth received £63 million. My home town of Bolton, about which I can claim to know a little, received £34 million, while Blackpool received £8.3 million—is it deprived? There are other figures: Doncaster received £61 million, Oldham £16 million, and Kirklees £35 million. Some of those areas may have bigger populations, but even if we multiple Tewkesbury's population proportionally, we do not get anywhere near comparable figures. However, those

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areas are targeted under what is called the English fair share initiative. Where is the fairness and how will things improve for my constituency?

Organisations in Tewkesbury have made many good applications and I have seen some in detail recently. There was an application to make improvements to the famous Tewkesbury abbey, one to upgrade the Bishop's Cleeve tithe barn and many other examples that I could mention. However, all were turned down and, despite promises, the area remains poorly funded in terms of lottery money. Indeed, Gloucestershire comes sixth out of six in terms of total funding. If we break that down into the six categories, it is bottom of the list in four, and fifth out of six in the remaining two, so we lose out in every which way.

Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to answer my questions; I certainly intend to leave him enough time to do so. What about the merits of individual applications? How are decisions about the applications weighted and made? What is meant by "deprivation"? How is it calculated and how big an area in each constituency is measured? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to review that criterion as a means of deciding which areas should benefit from lottery funding. Why is the distribution of lottery money across the country still so unequal? I have given examples. Why does my constituency keep losing out so badly?

The national lottery was started in 1994 with the objective of helping projects that would benefit the community. It was a way of helping those projects without calling on taxation, which might be inappropriate. The lottery was set up not to supplement taxation, but as an alternative way of raising funds so that community projects could benefit.

The lottery has had much success in a number of areas. The one or two projects that have benefited in Tewkesbury have been tremendously successful, but there have not been that many of them. This is the second time that I have raised the issue in the House of Commons and I do not intend to let it slip because a number of organisations in Tewkesbury are pressing me to ask why we do not get our fair share.

12.41 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) on securing the debate. I know his constituency reasonably well. Indeed, we met at the Cheltenham gold cup, when I backed the winner. I am sure that he appreciates that Cheltenham, like all horseracing towns, has backed a winner in that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has provided help for the racing industry.

Since 1994, the national lottery has become one of the most successful lotteries in the world. We must acknowledge that, because sometimes in these debates we miss the bigger picture. It has raised about £12 billion and 100,000 lottery awards have been made. By those standards, it is a great success, which we should recognise and celebrate. We should also recognise that every part of the country has benefited in some way from lottery funding. However, some parts appear to have benefited rather more than others and the hon. Gentleman has initiated the debate to ask questions about his constituency.

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We wanted to make changes so that people had confidence that lottery money was spread fairly throughout the country and different groups in our society. We wanted decisions on individual grants to be made closer to the area where the money would be spent and for it to be distributed according to need. We wanted to shift the emphasis from capital expenditure on buildings to spending on people and activities. In the first couple of years after the lottery was conceived, we probably went down the road of capital schemes a little more than was advisable, but we have gone through a learning curve and I think that there is consensus among parties in the House on that. We have reviewed the situation and taken those points on board.

The National Lottery Act 1998 and the new policy directions for distributors set out a broad network that reflected those changes. Lottery distributors take decisions on individual grants within the framework, while retaining the independence that is a fundamental principle of the lottery. Distributors now have more flexibility in the way that they distribute money to good causes. They can delegate decisions within their organisations to a more local level and to outside organisations, which is happening. They can pool funds and work together on joint schemes more easily than before. They must produce strategic plans that reflect the needs of their sector and provide proposals for addressing them.

The 1998 legislation also introduced a new lottery distributor, the new opportunities fund, to fund new initiatives in the areas that concern people most. According to a MORI poll that we commissioned, those areas are health, education and the environment. It also introduced a new scheme, Awards for All, which allows distributors to work together to provide a one-stop shop for grants of up to £5,000 to community groups. The latter has been particularly successful and overall the number of small grants under £5,000 to community groups has trebled. Earlier this year, we introduced the fair share initiative, which is designed to tackle inequity in lottery funding in deprived areas. Overall, 62 areas were chosen for fair share funding based on a methodology that evaluated areas according to levels of deprivation and the amount of lottery funding already received. That initiative is worth £169 million.

Fair share is just one of several targeted initiatives operated by the lottery distributors and the Government are committed to ensuring that all areas of the UK benefit from lottery funding. More generally, since 1998 the percentage of revenue funding awarded—the big argument in the early years of the lottery was about capital, not revenue—has increased from 9 per cent. to 31per cent., and 41 per cent. of all grants made so far have gone to the 50 most deprived local authorities. Many distributors now also delegate decisions on funding. For example, the heritage lottery fund established nine committees in the English regions to make decisions on applications between £50,000 and £l million. Decisions about arts projects below £100,000 are made at regional level. It must be right that decisions about funding are made at the most local level.

The quality, efficiency and standards unit—QUEST—report, published in August 2000, made a number of recommendations for improving application and assessment procedures to ease the administrative burden for smaller groups applying for grants. It

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recommended that we put in a hot line so that there could be contact at a one-stop shop. That has been successful. There have been nearly 8,000 inquiries to date. It has been an extremely popular way of contacting the lottery and getting information without being bounced from one distributor to another. The service provides basic information about the types of grant available and contact details for the relevant distributor from a single phone number.

Lottery distributors have also established a lottery website, which also provides basic information and links to relevant sites. The site averages more than 6,000 hits each month. Distributors are simplifying application procedures for smaller grants. That has been welcomed. The heritage lottery fund has introduced a simple application form for capital grants under £50,000 and in April 2001 the community fund launched a new grants programme for awards between £500 and £60,000, based closely on the Awards for All programme, with a short, simple application form and a quick turnaround time.

The hon. Gentleman asked why some applications were being turned down. Distributors are working jointly to produce common minimum standards for feedback and appeals to ensure that unsuccessful applicants are given helpful and detailed information on why their applications failed and to increase consistency between distributors on how appeals are handled. That is important for the integrity of the lottery. In spite of those very real changes, it is clear that some areas still do rather better than others. I make no apology for our decision to target some lottery funding, via the fair share initiative, on those areas that are both the most deprived and have historically done badly from the lottery.

That initiative is not a panacea for all ills, however, and it does not address the issues of those areas, which, while they may not be classed as deprived, still rightly want to win lottery funding for worthwhile projects in their communities. It is frustrating when a constituency does not do as well as its neighbours—that has been graphically illustrated today—particularly when one knows from personal experience how worth while the applications are. However, it is important to look not only at the individual constituencies, but at the surrounding area. The hon. Gentleman referred to Gloucestershire, which is made up of six constituencies, some of which have done better from the lottery than others. Indeed, Gloucester is top of the league. It has received average lottery funding of £285 per capita. At the other end of the scale, which the hon. Gentleman illustrated graphically, the figure for Tewkesbury is £35 per capita.

We need to be careful when we interpret statistics. Large towns and cities often attract lottery funding for large capital projects because they have the infrastructure and necessary support needed to secure funding—big stadiums or concert halls. We see that up and down the country. The hon. Gentleman knows that Gloucester leisure centre is a good example. It is in Gloucester, but many people in the surrounding area have benefited from it.

Often, a scheme to be delivered across an area will be based for administration purposes in a single location. For example, Gloucestershire local education authority is based in Gloucester. It has received £2 million to fund

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technology training for teachers and librarians throughout the county, so Tewkesbury will gain from that.

Mr. Robertson : I am grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic approach. I believe he would agree that it is all right to spend money in inner cities, but people then have to travel to those areas. The town of Tewkesbury needs regenerating or there will be serious problems and we will waste a jewel of a place, but it has had applications turned down.

In order for people in Tewkesbury to benefit from something in Gloucester they have to travel by car. I was privileged to take part in the debate on communities initiated by the Government a couple of weeks ago. It is essential to keep people in the areas where they live for part of their leisure time if we are to build up communities.

Mr. Caborn : I take that point on board. The community fund is revisiting these issues—as we do continually—and announcing a rural initiative to help deprived rural communities that have received lower lottery funding than others. That is also the coalfield communities approach. We may consider Tewkesbury in that context.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out differences between Gloucestershire and Tewkesbury and other areas. Tewkesbury has received 116 awards, around the same number as Cheltenham, but Cheltenham's average fund per capita is around £166, much higher than Tewkesbury's £35. The other five Gloucestershire constituencies have all received funding well above the median level of £84 per capita. Tewkesbury sees fewer awards than most of its neighbours and those awards are for lower amounts. Those discrepancies appear in the calculations given by the hon. Gentleman.

It is not always easy to see the disparity from the bald figures, although we can bandy statistics around. Perhaps Tewkesbury does not make as many applications as other constituencies. Applications to the community fund from Tewkesbury are certainly lower. However, when they are made, they have a higher strike rate—44 per cent of Tewkesbury's applications to the community fund have succeeded, which is a better success rate than any of its neighbours except Forest of Dean. Voluntary community organisations in Tewkesbury may not be as experienced in applying for lottery funding as those in neighbouring areas. They say that nothing breeds success like success. One might want to consider that with regard to Tewkesbury.

Mr. Robertson : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his advice on community fund

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applications. At the time of the previous debate, it was easier to obtain figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the number of applications that were made, but I am told that it does not have that information now. At that time, applications from organisations in Tewkesbury were just as frequent and as many as those from other constituencies in Gloucestershire, and we asked for as much money as they did.

Mr. Caborn : I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. I am aware that Tewkesbury borough council has now met the community fund to discuss those issues and how they can be addressed. He raised a genuine worry and it is one that we have to bottom, whatever the reasons for it may be. Clearly, the borough council has an important role to play in building up the capacity of Tewkesbury to increase successful applications, and that shows that it takes its role seriously. I will request a progress report on the meetings that have taken place to ascertain whether there are deficiencies, wherever they may lie, and whether we can address them. There are major discrepancies and I would like that bottomed. Once that analysis has been carried out, we can start to deal with the matter.

The Tewkesbury problem is not uncommon. Several constituencies are not as successful at winning lottery funds as they should be. Unfortunately, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there are no quick fixes. Since the inception of the lottery, we have tried to move from big capital schemes and have focused on revenue. We have devolved that power into the regions in respect of some distributors. We are trying to bring decision making nearer to the point at which it applies and feeding in local knowledge. I am sure that that can be achieved. Decision making is thus more informed and effective and people will appreciate that.

The Tewkesbury problem may not fit into any of those categories. As I have said, we will consider the discussions with the community fund. I will ask for a report and write to the hon. Gentleman about it. Constituents may have other issues of a similar nature that we shall also need to address.

The lottery is an evolving financial instrument. It has all-party support throughout the House and we want it to be effective and successful. If there are specific problems, we will try to deal with them, but we have to do that in the totality of the funding regime and the way that the House has constructed the lottery. Nevertheless, I will take the matter on board and will write to the hon. Gentleman about the discussions that have been taking place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. We thank the Minister for his reply. Although it is a little early, we can move straight on to the next debate.

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