Skip to main content

Community Groups (Lottery Funding)

Volume 534: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2011

It is a pleasure to have this 30-minute debate with you in the Chair, Mr Howarth.

I want to talk about one of the most deprived communities in my constituency and about problems in the distribution of lottery funding in general. I also want to talk about delays in using the lottery funding that could and should be helping that community but has not been doing so.

The constituency of Worsley and Eccles South is in the west of the city of Salford and it contains the ward of Little Hulton. Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in the country, and Little Hulton is one of the most deprived wards in Salford.

Many issues need to be addressed in the area, including low levels of qualification and high levels of worklessness and child poverty. The ward also has higher than average numbers of people with limiting long-term illness, which leads to higher caring work loads for unpaid family carers. An area such as Little Hulton needs support to address such issues and to build the capacity of its community groups.

Historically, my constituency has not benefited much from lottery grants. We are ranked 624th of 650 constituencies in the award of grants for community arts and sports groups. Indeed, since 1995, lottery distributors have allocated only £6 million of funding and 262 grants to Worsley and Eccles South. By comparison, the Cities of London and Westminster constituency has benefited from £914 million and 2,231 grants, which is more than 150 times as much lottery funding to more than nine times as many groups. I notice that the Minister’s Faversham and Mid Kent constituency has also benefited from at least £15 million of funding. I am sure he would agree that there is probably not as much need in Faversham and Mid Kent as there is in my Salford constituency.

This disparity in funding is unacceptable. On a number of occasions, I raised with the Big Lottery Fund my concern about how few grants were being made to community groups in my constituency. Some redress of that grossly unfair distribution was promised in July 2010 with the announcement that Little Hulton ward was to benefit from £1 million of Big Lottery funding due to its having been “previously overlooked” by the lottery. I was pleased about that, but I was somewhat concerned to hear that it might be some time before the community in Little Hulton actually started to benefit from the funding being allocated to it.

At the time of the announcement, it was said that a charitable trust would be set up. The BBC news item said:

“It is expected that the charitable trust responsible for the lottery money will be in place by October and that projects will begin to receive funding from June 2011.”

It is now nearly the end of October 2011, 15 months after the announcement of the funding for Little Hulton, yet not one penny of the lottery money has gone to the local community.

There are plenty of ways that the funding could be used to good effect, and there are people with excellent knowledge of the area who could help to suggest them. The council has a competent neighbourhood team, headed by the excellent Vincent Nash, which has a really good grasp of the issues and opportunities in the area. Indeed the announcement of the grant to Little Hulton said that the neighbourhood team,

“played an important part in ensuring Little Hulton received the money, conducting a two hour tour for representatives from the Big Lottery Fund and explaining to them what some of the key challenges are in the area.”

There is also an outreach and engagement forum, which is a network of agencies in the area. It includes community representatives who live in the area, represent local people and understand local issues. They come from different residents associations, and I have worked with them on a number of local issues. Also included is Sylvia Phillips, the chair of the community committee covering Little Hulton.

Sylvia is a life-long resident of Little Hulton and she has substantial knowledge of local issues. At the announcement of the Big Lottery funding, she was bubbling with ideas. She said:

“One of the things we feel we’d like to do is have some sort of community resource in the centre of Little Hulton, so it’s accessible to all the residents. Maybe we could have it for the old and the young, like a recording studio on one side and then there could also be a meeting room where the older people could meet...we have a good park which could be used for lots of things and the community spirit in Little Hulton is alive and kicking.”

I should like to report that some of those ideas had been examined for feasibility over the past 15 months but I cannot. The 15 months have been characterised by false starts and by long periods when nothing appeared to be happening.

In August 2010, the neighbourhood management team met lottery representatives to see how they could support them in getting local people involved. It was six months later, in February 2011, that a Salford-based voluntary organisation was appointed as the lead organisation. An initial meeting was held. Twenty residents, the neighbourhood team and other partner organisations gave their views on what the trust’s development funding should be used for. Sylvia Phillips tells me that she knocked on people’s doors to get them to come along to that meeting. Months then elapsed with nothing happening. The residents who came to the meeting used to stop Sylvia in the street to ask her what was happening, but she was unable to tell them.

The allocation of £1 million to a deprived area that has missed out on funding should be good news, but all we have seen for 15 months is false starts and lack of progress. The Big Lottery has been unable to get a scheme going effectively, which could be because the area does not have an established infrastructure of voluntary and community organisations. Existing structures and individuals were ignored by the Big Lottery, which seemed to be looking for further community networks that do not exist in Little Hulton. The structures that exist are centred on the local council, the Churches and the schools. Salford council has established ways of reaching out to the community and engaging local residents.

I shall list the issues that I believe have caused the delays and false starts: ignoring existing structures and key individuals; searching for a lead organisation to establish the trust—that caused at least nine months of the delay; and appointing staff from outside the area rather than recruiting a paid staff member to work in the area. I have seven years’ experience of the constituency and I, along with people from outside Salford, have had a lot to learn about how to work with local people. In September, a Manchester-based organisation was put forward as the lead agency and a Leeds-based consultant was appointed as the representative for the Big Local Trust in Little Hulton. What we have seen even over the past few weeks is a lack of understanding by people who come from outside the area. I do not blame them for that; it is difficult being brought into an area for the first time. It was not a brilliant start. The newly appointed people scheduled meetings for the residents in a different area of Salford. That appeared to be for the convenience of the organisers, but it confused people. There was suspicion that it meant that the funding was to be used over a wider area.

I understand the need for consultation in establishing a charitable trust such as this, but the consultation has been repetitive. A sizeable group came together in February to give their ideas and input. None the less, the agenda for the meeting in October included “involving community organisations.” As I said, we do not have a vast network of community organisations.

The appointed consultant sent me a report before this debate. He said that

“community associations in the area will be approached and involved in the next phase of consultation and community visioning work.”

Clearly, he is adopting a particular approach to community development that ignores the context he is in. I do not know who briefed him but such an approach will not work. At a recent meeting with residents, he suggested that they go on away-days. The residents are frustrated. They have contributed a lot to this process and they do not want to go on away-days. In fact, being taken out of their own ward made them feel as though they were on an away-day.

However, I can report some better news. The view of Sylvia Phillips and other local representatives prevailed at that meeting. They conveyed some understanding of what would work in an area such as Little Hulton. They had their own sensible ideas, including holding meetings in Little Hulton itself and not in other venues. They suggested that consultation should be done at existing community events, such as the upcoming bonfire night. They also suggested using an empty shop in the district shopping centre as a way to make better contact with local people. As I heard about these things, it seemed to me that much of the process is about basic good practice in community development. If people coming from outside the area do not understand the local context, they must listen and learn from local residents.

Even at this point, 15 months into the process, and even with the recent developments in the scheme, the focus is still on the seemingly small item of how to bid for and spend £30,000, which is a small amount of development funding, and on how to get consultation going again. It really is time that the scheme got past that stage and that residents started to see their ideas being taken more seriously. Although the £1 million has been sitting about, inflation is at 5% and the £1 million allocated to Little Hulton has already eroded in value. If we go too many months down the road, it will be worth less than the £1 million that it was worth last year.

Little Hulton is an area where unemployment, including youth unemployment, and child poverty are getting worse. We had riots in Salford this summer, although I probably do not need to remind people of that.

I understand that the Big Lottery Fund is independent, but the Government give them directions, and I believe that the Cabinet Office is currently consulting on changing those directions. In fact, I hope that the problems that the Big Local Trust has had in getting started in Little Hulton—problems that I am reporting today—can serve to inform the consultation.

The Big Lottery Fund’s mission states:

“We are committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need.”

It also says that the Big Lottery Fund will “give money” to neighbourhoods that have failed to access cash and will let them

“decide where and how it can be put to best use.”

I must say that that is not what we have seen with the Big Lottery Fund’s work in Little Hulton during the last 15 months. In a flurry of criticism earlier this year, the Big Lottery Fund was criticised for spending a reported £71 million each year on its own running costs and wages for its 988 staff. The high staff salary levels were justified by the Big Lottery Fund, which said they reflected the fact that their employees were graduates who did not do “routine clerical jobs” but jobs that require

“skill and judgement, managing 26,000 ongoing projects.”

Again, I must say that we have not seen much of that “skill and judgement” being exercised in the last 15 months in relation to our scheme in Little Hulton.

I hope that this report of a local situation—I admit that it is very local—is useful in showing what can go wrong. It provokes some questions about how the Big Lottery Fund is running its Big Local Trust scheme.

I have a few remaining points to make and I also have a question to put to the Minister. I believe that a better way to establish a Big Local Trust scheme in an area such as Little Hulton is to start by utilising all the existing structures in the area, including the neighbourhood management team and the Churches. I have not talked about the contribution that the ministers of our local Churches make, but it is substantial; they do a lot of work in the community. Other existing structures and representatives include ward councillors, local residents and even the local MP. I have not been consulted and nor have the local ward councillors. I would be happy to meet representatives of the Big Lottery Fund to ensure that the fund is finally going to start working effectively on the scheme in Little Hulton.

Some of the approaches used for community capacity building that I have described today, such as talk of “community visioning”, may not be the way to start that work in a community such as Little Hulton. They are more suitable for areas with an established voluntary sector and where individuals are more used to going on away-days and using all those training development techniques. I do not decry those methods. In the right place, they can be very useful, but people in Little Hulton are impatient to see something get off the ground.

Does the Minister agree that a distributor such as the Big Lottery Fund, which has nearly 1,000 staff and running costs of £71 million, should understand how to establish a project to distribute funds of just £1 million in an area with fairly minimal community capacity? Also, can the Big Lottery Fund look at what has happened in Little Hulton and learn some lessons that it can apply in other deprived communities?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), both on securing this debate and on the way that she has put her case across. Having said that, I must say at the outset that I owe her two apologies. First, I am not the Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who has been responsible for the national lottery. That is the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and I am afraid that he is away at a European meeting today. Secondly and probably even more fundamentally, because it took the DCMS some time to make contact with the hon. Lady’s office and establish the precise points that she wanted to raise, we are no longer even the Department that she needs to answer her questions. As she knows, the responsibility for BIG—the Big Lottery Fund—has now transferred to the Cabinet Office. So she really wants the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, who is now responsible for BIG.

Needless to say, I have a wonderfully drafted speech, but it answers very few of the hon. Lady’s questions. The best thing that I can do is to give her an undertaking that I will write to the chair of BIG. She can either write me a letter that I will send on to him, or I am very happy to get officials in my Department to write to him and ensure that the questions that she has put today are taken on board and that something is done about them.

At the end of her speech, the hon. Lady asked me if I thought that what has happened in her area was an acceptable way to operate. The honest answer is, “No, I don’t think it is.” I am not an expert on the exact administrative charges that apply to BIG. However, when BIG was administered by DCMS, as part of the comprehensive spending review we set all our non-departmental public bodies—including the two that I am responsible for directly, which are UK Sport and Sport England—a target of bringing their administrative costs down to 5% of their spend. I would be very surprised if BIG was allowed to be an exception to that at any stage in the future.

I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s analysis of what has gone wrong here. It is very likely that the lottery distributor looked to an existing pattern—a form of working—that, for the reasons she has perfectly outlined, simply does not exist in Little Hulton. Therefore, having promised this money, it was imperative for BIG to find some other way to deliver it, because there is nothing more frustrating and draining for community groups than to be offered the opportunity to bid for a pot of money such as this one, which, as the hon. Lady correctly said, could and should be very profitably used in the local community—indeed, that is exactly what the national lottery was set up to do and it is why ticket sales have increased year on year, as they have done—and then the promise not to be delivered on over a protracted period of time. I am absolutely with her on all of that.

In fact, we did not even have to bid for this money. The important thing about this element of BIG funding is that it is meant to redress the imbalance. Clearly there is a big imbalance to be redressed, whereby the constituency of Cities of London and Westminster has received £914 million of lottery funding and my constituency has received only £6 million, which is a very small amount.

What has happened in Little Hulton is an absolute indication that we do not have a community infrastructure, whereby groups are ready, able and full of the sort of people who can put bids in. There is a sort of double disappointment, that this is a scheme like the previous scheme, Fair Share, to try to redress that imbalance a little bit, but what happened is that a series of new barriers were erected. The right thing to do would have been for BIG to send someone in with some experience of community development in an area such as Little Hulton—there are people up and down the country who have that experience—and they could have tried to work with local people to develop their agenda.

Having looked at this project in Little Hulton, it seems crazy for BIG to have a scheme to distribute money in areas that have failed to bid for lottery money but then to look for a bidding organisation in those areas. That is the point, really. There will be 50 of these projects and the Big Local Trust really needs to have a different path that, as the Minister says, helps those projects to get started in areas where there is no community infrastructure. Instead, people could use councils, churches, schools and those sorts of bodies.

I can only say to the hon. Lady that I agree with her absolutely. As she correctly said, the problem points to the fact that much of the infrastructure that would normally be needed to apply for lottery grants is simply not present. Therefore, if money is to be delivered effectively—no one wants to see money promised but not translated into projects on the ground—alternative delivery mechanisms to the normal ones will be needed. I suspect, without wishing to over-egg the pudding, she will find that that is the case not only for the areas for which BIG is responsible but for sports, arts and heritage, which are the three other beneficiaries of lottery funding, falling outside the allocation to BIG.

I can give the hon. Lady some small words of comfort: the problem is probably better understood than it was 10 years ago or at the start of the lottery in 1994, and a pattern can now be clearly established. All the national lottery distributors are aware of that. I spent an hour before I came to respond to the debate talking to Sport England about community sports grants, in connection with London 2012 and the inspired and iconic facilities, specifically concentrating on how we might get more of that money into areas where it is needed. We talked about the riots and about how we might increase the capacity for people to play sport, not only by putting in coaches and officials but by doing something about the facilities. The process has been lengthy but, slowly, some understanding has come about.

I want to mention StreetGames—I am sure the Minister knows it—which, in my experience, has a wonderful model for going into deprived communities and getting projects off the ground. Perhaps BIG needs to be talking to StreetGames about how it does things.

Let me immediately give the hon. Lady some comfort. It would probably be invidious of me not to name them all, but in our meeting we were talking about three organisations in that regard and StreetGames was one. When the party conference was in Manchester a few years back, I went to see a number of its projects, and I have seen it sponsor things here. Absolutely, StreetGames is that sort of provider organisation. I suspect that the problem she is facing with the Big Lottery Fund is that BIG has not recognised that other local organisations such as StreetGames in the voluntary and community area could deliver the sort of improvements for which she is looking.

I could test everyone’s time in the period before lunch by reading through my speech but, given what the hon. Lady has said this morning, I am not sure that it will add greatly to the nation’s sum of knowledge. By far the best thing that I can do to help her and her community is to give an undertaking. If she is prepared to write a letter to me, I will write on her behalf to the chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, telling him that I have given her an undertaking that he will meet her. We will arrange a meeting with him at which she can take up the issues directly. We might then achieve what we all want to see, which is that her community gets the money promised to it—which it clearly needs—as quickly and as efficiently as possible, commensurate with the need to account for the money correctly.

Sitting suspended.