As Prime Minister, John Major oversaw the introduction of Britain’s National Lottery. At the time he faced Labour suggestions that it was a regressive way of getting the poor to fund the public services. Public services should only be paid for by progressive taxation, Labour then insisted. PM Major denied the charges and his administration only permitted Lottery proceeds to be used for sport, national heritage, good causes and the, er, um, early preparations for Michael Heseltine’s Millennium Dome.
“From the outset, I insisted that Lottery money should be used for additional spending on causes or activities that the taxpayer should not be expected to cover… When the Lottery Bill was going through Parliament, the Labour Opposition was at pains to stress the importance of government keeping an arms-length relationship from the Lottery and, in particular, grant distribution. But, since it took power, Labour has diverted Lottery funding into areas that have historically been funded by the Exchequer. Indeed, the “Big Lottery Fund” has a specific remit to fund health, education and environment projects when taxpayers would rightly expect many of these projects to be funded directly by Government. The Labour Government’s deliberate muddying of the waters between Exchequer and Lottery revenues is an unwelcome development and one which, as its creator, dismays me greatly.”
The Conservative Party’s 2003 Green Paper on the voluntary sector – Sixty Million Citizens
– promoted a radical solution to this problem. It noted the growing politicisation of Lottery funding decisions and a large number of controversial awards. It suggested that these controversies partly explained the Lottery’s falling popularity. It proposed that Lotto players should be able to ensure that local charities could benefit from the charitable portion of the £1 bet. One suggestion was turning the Lotto ticket into some sort of gift token that could be given to local charities for them to redeem. It’s still an idea worthy of consideration…