Freedom of (dis)information  

We’ve learned that a Freedom of Information request sought to reveal more about the £425m taken from the Big Lottery Fund to pay for the 2012 Olympics. DSC has been campaigning for years to get this raided cash paid back to the Lottery in full. We’ve repeatedly asked government: when will this happen exactly? Their response? Pick a year: early 2020s…mid-2020s… seems the response is the same even for MPs.

You can ask for information – but don’t expect real answers

The Freedom of Information request from January 2018 asked: Has the £425m taken to support the staging of the 2012 Olympics been redistributed back to the national lottery?

What did we learn from the reply? A lot and nothing.

Apparently ‘HM Treasury does not hold information within the scope of [the] request’. What? Nearly half a billion pounds, which under a legal agreement must be repaid to the Lottery from Olympics asset sales? Which is due to be returned to the Lottery, via the government, and the Treasury doesn’t have any information about it?

Are they saying ‘sorry, we just don’t know what happened to the money’ or ‘we don’t want to tell you’? They also said the question had already been answered elsewhere…so is it ‘somebody else knows?’ We got excited – then followed further down the rabbit hole of disinformation.

And so we were referred to a previous written parliamentary question by Natalie McGarry from 2016. Round and round we go. Government’s answer to this lists the same soundbites which they’ve repeated for years: ‘the Lottery will be repaid by 2020’. Further information is supposed to be available in the legal agreement between DCMS and the Greater London Authority (GLA) which underpins the Lottery repayment.’ But at the time of writing, the document cannot be found online. Maybe they like it that way? Fortunately, we have it already! You can access it here. Spoiler alert: the information that Natalie McGarry was asking for is not included in it.

It has been 10+ years since the Lottery raid – we can’t wait another 10 or 20

The £425m raided from the Big Lottery Fund to finance the 2012 Olympic Park assets could have funded the activities of up to 42,000 small and medium charities. It still could. But when?

Paying back the Lottery was always supposed to happen by selling Olympic assets, which have been handed over to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). A deal between government and the Greater London Authority lays out how this should work – but very little has been paid back so far.

A recent response to a parliamentary question by Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Steve Reed, has revealed that so far only £57.5m has been generated. This means that at the current rate, it would take well over 30 years to get to the full £425 million repaid!

More money being lost in the process

Meanwhile, Olympic assets continue losing more taxpayers’ money. An official inquiry by accounting firm Moore Stephens found that converting the Olympic Stadium for West Ham United’s use cost almost £300m and has incurred annual losses of about £20m for the stadium operator. Crucial resources that could help local communities are going down the drain. Now London Mayor Sadiq Khan has taken back control of the London Stadium. He has also a big say in how the LLDC is run. Khan can for example appoint the chair of the LLDC. Maybe he can help us to find out from government: when will the money be finally paid back to the Big Lottery Fund?

What can I do to help?

The impact of a Big Lottery Refund for local communities could be immense, Find out more on what you can do to help getting the money paid back:

  • Sing up and support the campaign, find more information here.
  • Follow us on Twitter @BigLotteryRfnd – tell us what would your charity, community group or organisation do with an extra grant of £10,000 from the Big Lottery Fund.
  • Write to your local MPs and let them know that you think the Big Lottery Fund should get its money back now.