More specifically: what do 3849 charities, 1360 days, 425 million pounds, 4 ministers and 2 Governments have in common?
No, it’s not a maths riddle or an episode of Countdown (but hey, why not?). And you could be forgiven for thinking it all adds up to some dodgy Government accounting – which it does.
In fact, it’s 1360 days since the end of London 2012 – nearly 4 years. In that time we’ve had 4 Culture Ministers and 2 Governments. We’re shortly going to have another Olympics. And in that time the campaign to get Government to pay back the £425 million it owes to the Big Lottery Fund has been supported by 3849 charities and members of the public.
In 2007 the last Labour government announced it was taking £675 million in lottery cash to help subsidise the costs of building the London Olympics infrastructure – the stadium, the swimming pool, and the other venues on the Olympic Park. The lion’s share of this cash –£425 million – was taken from the Big Lottery Fund, which meant that charities and community groups across the UK lost out on crucial grant funding in the turbulent years that followed.
Following outrage from the charity sector and many MPs, the government agreed to pay back the money after the Olympics by selling the assets on the Olympic Park. Nearly ten years on and most of these assets are being leased away for next nothing to local authorities or the private sector (witness West Ham football club getting the 60,000 seater Olympic Stadium, a venue which cost about £700 million to construct, for a paltry £2.5 million a year for the next 99 years!)
The good news is that the current Government, like the last one, has said it remains committed to paying this money back from the sales of Olympic assets. After the General Election last year, John Penrose MP, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, confirmed that the asset sales deal with the London Legacy Development Corporation (which runs the Park) remains in place. Additionally, thanks to our campaign, £148 million in other Lottery cash that the government was hiding under a mattress somewhere was returned to the Lottery distributors in 2014.
So we only have £425m to worry about? wrong!
But we most certainly cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to this issue. It’s not just about getting the £425 million back, but the need to continually remind the politicians that this money is not theirs to play with. Just last November there was a credible threat to take ANOTHER £320 million from the Big Lottery Fund, to make up for potential cuts at the Department for Culture Media and Sport. Our campaigners fought this off thankfully – though the ensuing irony that government subsequently claimed it had ‘protected the Lottery’ (ehm, from itself) was almost too much to bear. DSC and our supporters are still on the case. We wrote to the Chancellor before the Budget and reminded him that we still need our money back, and we need it NOW. And we actually got a response this time! From the Treasury! We have to be grateful for small mercies.
Greg Hands MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wrote back to us to say:
‘There is a robust commitment in place to pay back the £675 million borrowed to fund the 2012 Olympic Games to the National Lottery Distribution Fund (NLDF). £425 million of this will go to the Big Lottery Fund. It is expected that the NLDF will start receiving funds from the early 2020s. The Government maintains its position that this deal is fair.’ Read his full letter here.
We’ve been repeatedly calling for the Government to pay back the Big Lottery Fund immediately, not starting from the 2020s (previous verbiage from ministers has mentioned the 2030s). Struggling charities and beneficiaries are desperate for this money now, not in the next decade. Given the confidence it has in the assets repayment deal, there is no reason the Government can’t refund the Lottery the full amount now and make arrangements so that it receives repayments from assets sales in the future.
The Treasury’s view is not accepted by all in politics it seems. Reacting to the letter, Anna Turley, the shadow Minister for Civil Society, said ‘It is astonishing that the Treasury deem it acceptable to repay the Big Lottery Fund after 2020, almost 8 years after the Olympics. The sector won’t keep quiet about this, and every additional day that there is a delay, charities are struggling to provide vital services. The Government needs to step up and begin repayments straight away.’
What do we need to do?
What do you think? Nearly four years on from 2012, with Rio just around the corner, it’s time to ramp up our campaign again. Follow us on Twitter @BigLotteryRefund and remind your local MP that we haven’t forgotten about the money they owe us! Got a bright idea for the campaign? Let us know. Visit the Big Lottery Refund campaign site for updates and more information. Get involved and help us get this money back where it belongs!