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Martin Pawley: rigging the ministry of chance

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The triumph of the 'me generation', the tidal wave of money, the emergence of the underclass, the dumbing down of culture by the electronic media . . . What is missing from this list of the big ideas of the last half century? The Lottery of course, that born-yesterday behemoth that is a bigger idea than any of them, and has not only blotted out all memory of the rest of the twentieth century but has the twenty-first in a grip that grows firmer with every passing day.

Despite its statutory 'transparency', it is bizarre how little people know about the Lottery. The figures quoted for its income and disbursements vary wildly.

With 28 per cent of its takings dedicated to good causes, you would think this simple enough to calculate, but it isn't.

The highest figure for gross takings I have ever seen quoted was £250 billion a year! A fantastic sum cooked up by the Dutch magazine Archis which, if correct, would have meant 'good cause' disbursements to the value of £70 billion a year - enough to keep the entire architectural profession in work for the rest of recorded time. But then that was just a wild guess. Nearer the mark, probably, was the London Evening Standard's claim that the Lottery Development fund had only paid out a measly £2.6 billion to good causes since 1994, leaving enough on deposit to bring the nation's balance of payments into credit, plus a nice little nest egg of £1.5 billion not yet awarded to anyone.

Clearly, if this is how the sacred principle of additionality has been working (all Lottery disbursements are required to be over and above existing government funding), it is hardly surprising that the government looks suspiciously as though it is thinking of taking a bite at the Lottery cherry.

The opportunity has arisen in part because of the unpopularity of Camelot and the approaching end of its franchise, and in part because of the creation of the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) under the 1998 Lottery Act.

Under this act the new fund will not only receive one sixth of the money diverted to good causes but, after 2001, all the money that presently goes to the Millennium Commission.

From this lion's share it will make grants to an ill-defined range of education, environment and public-health projects. Most suspiciously, because it will be operated by civil servants and not the usual Lottery crowd of unusually representative people, it will in effect be under the control of government ministers from day one.

For those many hundreds of architects still hoping to wrest a few hundred millions from the Lottery Development Fund, this cannot be good news. The NOF claims to be more interested in after-school clubs than in diverting billions back into education and health but, mindful of the principle of additionality, it would, wouldn't it?

Give it a few years and the government will announce a new Ministry of Chance to run the NOF and have it take the original four disbursing bodies under its wing. Not much chance of laying hands on that Lottery nest-egg for a world craft museum, I presume.

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