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Orders of the Day — National Lottery Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 14th June 2005.

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend 6:20 pm, 14th June 2005

I share with Mr. Horwood a background of working in Alzheimer's disease societies and with people with dementia. Like him, I recognise the problems in accessing money faced by that Cinderella sector. Equally, however, as I have sat here today and listened to the various speakers, I have been aware that my experience in Bridgend is not the same as that of Mrs. May; it is much more like that of my hon. Friend Chris Bryant.

Bridgend, it is acknowledged on the lottery webpage, has not received its fair share of lottery funding, with lower than average funding coming to projects in my constituency. Indeed, I am informed that we have the third lowest lottery funding. I can assure Members that Bridgend is eager to get its sticky little mitts on lottery money. Over the past couple of days, I have sought to examine why Bridgend is so far down the funding stream and how the proposals before us today will help my constituency to begin the fight back and climb the league of successful applicants.

I can assure the House that Bridgend is a community in need of that investment. It is in need of the lottery money that is available to it. Bridgend is not readily recognised as a deprived area, but we have pockets of severe social deprivation. Although there is inward growth in housing and new business, some of our leisure and community services have lacked investment for a number of years and are, to say the least, down at heel and frayed at the collar. The one thing that we are rich in is our commitment to our communities and our willingness to fight and work for them.

In preparation for today's debate I have spoken to a number of the people in my constituency for whom lottery money makes the difference, determining the growth, change and survival of services. There have been great successes, and I include here the Kenfig Pyle community youth project and the Bethlem Church projects, which work with young people in communities with few opportunities for leisure and social activities. I made reference to their excellent work in my maiden speech, as those projects have grown out of the communities in which they are based. Their management committees are local people and their commitment to the young people whom they serve is total. They offer alternatives to going to the pub, hanging round street corners and using drugs, which would be the only alternatives without those projects.

The projects were established by local people, not professionals. I urge the Minister to ensure that we do not develop a culture within the Big Lottery Fund that means that the large organisations—the professionals—and not the local communities access the funding and are seen as the experts in what is good for communities and in tackling local problems. I am hopeful that the Bill will be positive for my community.

What we need in Bridgend is continued development of small, sustainable community-led projects that are managed or delivered by local people. Funding must be ongoing. I reiterate the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. David that projects must not be left high and dry, having to jump through yet more hoops to access additional funding.

Will the Big Lottery Fund help my constituency? I feel that it will. I welcome the initiatives to restructure the lottery and to make the application process simpler. I welcome especially the plans to ensure that the level of unspent funds is reduced. I welcome the new capacity for the fund to handle non-lottery money to enable spending streams to be joined up. I especially welcome, too, the opportunity to reallocate balances that have not been reduced to other grant-making organisations in the same sector, so that good causes are not left without access to funds.

I think in particular of sports clubs in my constituency that are desperate to do drainage work on their pitches, but are told that there is no money for them to access. An opportunity such as this, to move balances, would ensure that that work could go ahead, so that organisations that, in a week, have 250 people working with Kenfig rugby and football clubs, would have the facilities that they need to offer those youngsters opportunities. We have been debating in the House opportunities for youngsters to engage in sport, and we should remember that the lottery funds opened up opportunities for many youngsters in my community that would not otherwise have been available.

I would like to share with the House some of the concerns and questions discussed with me by those in my constituency who co-ordinate many of our lottery bids. In particular, I thank Ty Jay Dekretser from the Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations—with whom I am sure I will have further discussions on the Bill as it proceeds through the House—and various officers from Bridgend county borough council who have shared their expertise and experience. They tell me that in Bridgend we have a particular problem with providing match funding. For example, the Kenfig Pocket Park committee has submitted an application for funding. We have a small dedicated group who have worked for two years putting together the application, but match funding is very limited.

I wonder whether it is possible to consider using some of the underspend and interest money from the lottery funds to help communities where there are good ideas, good projects and people willing and eager to work, but where there are problems in raising match funding, perhaps in some of our more deprived communities. For my local authority that problem has been exacerbated by the fact that European development money has also been available, and much of its match funding has gone to objective 1 projects. We have been accessing some money, but smaller local projects have not gone ahead, which is one reason for our success rate being low.

I welcome the opening of the new fund to take into account the views of the public, but we must not lose the opportunity that the lottery has given us, as a country, to tackle ideas and areas of work that were experimental or contentious. Sometimes that has related to people's perceptions of morality and what they perceive to be wrong. As one person commented to me, awards for lesbian and gay groups became more acceptable, but when those groups related to parenting, public opinion was often split.

Some practices, such as advocacy and mentoring, now mainstream in local authority provision and in the public sector generally, were initiated and mainstreamed by the voluntary and community sector, often with no funding but with great determination and conviction. Lottery funding helped those projects to expand. Now, we generally recognise their worth and they are moving into mainstream local authority policy. At their inception those practices were deemed radical; now we are willing to support them.

We must ensure that the Big Lottery Fund, like the Community Fund, which has been a tremendous success, will be prepared to fund new and radical ideas, to take risks and to recognise that one of the most effective ways of supporting communities, either geographically or interest-based, is to fund those new ideas. I have seen nothing in the Bill that suggests that that is not possible; I have merely heard it here today. I would therefore welcome reassurance when the Minister winds up the debate.

From the voluntary sector, I have heard fears that rigid, stifling and directed priorities will damage the voluntary and community sectors and, in doing so, reduce diversity and vibrancy. Those concerns were mentioned by the hon. Member for Cheltenham. I cite as an example the fact that, until three years ago, the United Kingdom had an established, though poorly funded, rape crisis centre network. Across the UK many victims of sexual abuse and rape were supported by volunteers who provided a free professional support and counselling service.

During the past three years, that network has been lost in many areas as statutory provision has moved into the field and we have recognised the need for mainstream funding in such work. To allay some of the concerns that have been laid before the House today, we perhaps need to ensure that voluntary sector organisations in such fields continue to have access to some lottery funding so that they can continue to take new initiatives and tackle radical new ideas. We could use that work almost as a testing ground for new and innovative ideas and marry the flexibility of the voluntary sector with the funding streams available to the statutory sector.

Some 30 per cent. of the Big Lottery Fund money will be used for public services. As a local Member, I feel a bit like a piggy in the middle between my local authority, which is desperate to access the money, and the voluntary sector. Lottery funding has been vital in Bridgend in enabling our very underfunded leisure services department to make a number of successful bids, benefiting my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies. Money has been accessed to develop sports facilities, with new sports barns at Cynffig, Ogmore and Ynysawdre comprehensives, as well as a new climbing wall at Pencoed and new pitches in Bryntirion. Our constituents will share use of the new Ynysawdre swimming pool, and my hon. Friend and I hope that money will be found to provide a sauna facility at the new pool.

At the same time, I know that the voluntary sector fears that there will be a reduction in the provision of community-led services and the wider opportunities that they provide to communities. For example, I have discussed with the leader of Wildmill playgroup and with other community playgroups how development of nursery provision in schools has seriously affected voluntary pre-school groups. While the increase in free provision has an economic benefit for families, we must ensure that we do not lose the vital support structures that the voluntary sector brings to parents. I know how vital my own local playgroup and "Meet a mum" association were for me when I stopped working and my son and I found ourselves alone, with all my friends in work and my family miles away, as well as a lack of support and companionship and others from whom to learn the skills of parenting. The playgroup, the "Meet a mum" association and the nursery that my son attended provided me with lasting network support and provided my son with a plethora of social aunties and uncles, as well friends that he has had from birth. We must be careful that, in professionalising services, we do not lose that human dimension that makes so many of the voluntary services work so effectively. I hope that the Big Lottery Fund will help us to ensure that that dimension remains an active part of the funding that will be available.

Considering the reasons for the lack of applications for funding in my constituency has led me to look again at the responsibilities that we place on the voluntary sector. In earlier debates on the Licensing Bill, one of the concerns raised was responsibilities for making and managing applications for licences for village halls. I heard the same concerns expressed when church groups that provide sitting and befriending services were required to register as domiciliary care agencies when I worked for the care standards inspectorate in Wales. I stress that we must use the Big Lottery Fund to consider how we can sustain and support the small voluntary groups that are afraid of some of the project management and legislative implications in respect of employment, health and safety; are concerned about preparing accounts; and worried about child and adult protection issues.

For example, the Shaw Trust provided support services for those with disabilities who took advantage of direct payments to manage their own care packages. The task of bearing the huge responsibility placed on those with no experience in such a field was made possible by sharing the burden through the professional support of Shaw Trust officers, who managed the payroll, contracts of employment, health and safety and training issues. The Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations provides that work locally, but it is a single organisation. If we are to expand voluntary groups, especially the small ones, that can access lottery funding, more and more such umbrella bodies that support a network of smaller organisations must be able to access the funding. That could allow almost exponential growth among the smaller voluntary organisations.

I hope that we will be able to provide that support work and not leave the smaller groups without the network of support that they need. Without such support, I fear that we may lose good ideas and initiatives, as well as the essential community link that makes projects work. Public policy may also lose that testing ground in respect of the voluntary and charity sector, which often provides initiatives and new thinking and drives services forward.

In conclusion, I welcome the Big Lottery Fund and the proposed change. It is essential that we ensure the survival of the lottery, but I am eager to ensure that Bridgend finally moves on to the ladder of funded schemes that are successful. The need to build in capacity with my local communities to fund and manage lottery bids will be essential if we are to access the funds.

I pay tribute to the hard work of those who spend hours, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham described, preparing and writing lottery applications and managing funds and projects that benefit their local communities. I hope that the Big Lottery Fund will ensure, through its streamlined application process, that new, creative, innovative and controversial ways of working remain a key part of the lottery role and function, and that yet more will be coming from Bridgend.