Big Society or the Cocktail Party Lottery? No bidding round from the Lottery they decide

 It looks like there has been a significant change in the way the Lottery gives out its money. In the past there were programmes and you applied for one.  Now it looks like it is all about who you know.  The Media Trust  have just won a  £1.89 million bid and the Square Mile has recently received  £850k . The Lottery has announced this under its People Powered Change Programme . But if you look at the programme, you can only apply for  up to £500k from the Reaching Communities Awards  and £10k for the Awards For All.  So how do these organisations manage to secure £1.89 million and £850k respectively? Is it secret meetings with the  Lottery? Going to the right cocktail parties?  Is this the future of the Big Society: not about what you do, but about who you know?
People Powered Change says they are keen to support  projects that:
  • help talented people make their ideas a reality
  • allow people to develop and use their skills more
  • enable people and groups to work together better
Maybe they should add, ‘Have to be based in London and attend the right events’.  Fairness does not seem to matter any more and this is a real shame.
In the past, the Lottery was always a good funder willing to take some risks, but this is one innovation too far: it lacks transparency, lacks integrity and leaves many  bewildered. We now seem to live in a world of deals behind closed doors where only the connected will prosper. Is this the true Big Society? Let the Chief Executive of the Lottery know what you think about these issues. You can get him on his Twitter account @PeterWanless
Also see Richard Caulfield blog Chief Exec Voluntary Sector North West and Dave  Wilcock blog on Social Reporter

16 thoughts on “Big Society or the Cocktail Party Lottery? No bidding round from the Lottery they decide

  1. Your article refers to ‘the Lottery’ but which which of the 16 lottery funders do you mean? I’m sure, for example, that the Heritage Lottery Fund doesn’t work in the way you suggest – in fact this body has recently been encouraging bids specifically from Salford because it’s concerned that the City hasn’t received many grants from them.

  2. my gran used to say, its not what you know, its who you know, and what you know about who you know.
    I guess she was right.

  3. I replied earlier to a similar blog post and reproduce below some of the observations I made.

    It’s really important that there are opportunities for people throughout the UK to have a chance of accessing Lottery cash for the good causes that matter most to them.

    BIG should encourage transparency and we should guard against the risk that our funding is awarded disproportionately to groups who move in certain circles. That is why our regional and country offices spend so much time listening to perspectives, particularly in “cold spot” areas that have struggled to access our cash. That’s why I get out and about whenever I can. It’s why I bother reading and replying personally to blogs like this. It’s why we publish all our Committee minutes. It’s what we have been inviting scores of groups to our Big Insight programme development events. It’s why you’ll see our staff, week after week, visiting projects in every part of the country, far more than any of us have either the time or inclination to attend parties.

    My main problem with your post is that it equates People Powered Change with an extremely narrow set of investments that are but a small part of what we are seeking to achieve as a Fund. We see People Powered Change as the overarching banner or philosophy that will inform all our funding across England in the period ahead. Within an England portfolio that has over £400 million a year to commit, funding is – or will be – typically subject to a competitive process. This may be very open or demand led; it may be constrained by issue or geography where, in consultation with relevant experts, we choose to focus demand onto solving specific problems. We have already announced the £200 million Big Local Trust and the first 50 areas to benefit from it. All 50 beneficiaries of up to £1 million are totally defined by the fact that they are absolutely not the ususal subjects for Lottery cash, but the estates and neighbourhoods who have previously failed to secure what we would expect them to get from the good causes pot. In every one of our funding programmes, we publish programme rules, processes and guidance notes. Everything you and others can do to help us make those available, accessible and clear to all who might be interested is something we appreciate greatly.

    In a very small number of cases, BIG has judged that there could be a case for a rapid injection of investment into the supporting infrastructure, to sit around the vast bulk of our funding, that could help accelerate and develop people powered change at a local level (our ultimate desire and passion). We receive many such approaches from organisations, the vast majority of which we turn away or encourage to apply competitively to one of our programmes. For a tiny handful, where the objective being proposed is deemed potentially to be of unique value, BIG will solicit a bid. In such circumstances, the solicited organisation must demonstrate clearly what it is uniquely placed to achieve and how those outcomes will be achieved. As it happens, the new investments announced at Salford were a clutch of four solicitations. The Media Trust is a fifth. In total they represent less than £10 million of our overall portfolio. None of this has been influenced by Government but flows from decisions made by our Non-Executive Directors.

    We are always open to solicitation proposals – they have always been a feature of the Lottery funding landscape, but they are very much the exception in terms of how we fund.

    I hope this is somewhat reassuring – making the best use of Lottery money depends so much on working with and through dedicated people working at local level. I want us to be encouraging, enabling and energising you in ways that are helpful.

    Best wishes.

    • I also feel something has gone wrong. Since the Big Lottery handed over its arts funding to the Arts Council, money for my little arts group from the Big Lotters has virtually dried up because the Arts Council’s goal is to support professional performers, not amateur performances directed by professionals, as ours are. I understand the Arts Council’s perceived remit, but they are therefore not the ones to help community theatre and should not be administering arts funds from the Lottery.

  4. I guess what would be most reassuring would be a clear and transparent account of how each of the ‘solicited bids’ came about, what alternatives, if any, were considered and the prioritisation process that enabled certain sums of money to be made available for such bids outside the usual processes.

  5. The rise of community and citizen reporting and journalism and the critical need in communities for vibrant local media, as revealed by the Goldsmiths Leverhulme research we commissioned last year, is the reason that we feel a UK-wide project to connect, resource and amplify this grass roots activity is needed. It’s also in response to the increasing demand for Media Trust support from local organisations across the UK, which this will help meet.

    The news hubs project is about finding and supporting existing activity as much as it is about inspiring new innovation to take place. Our role will be to work with local news platforms – be they hyper-local websites, blogs and twitter feeds or church newsletters, local parish papers or parent-teacher news – to help them meet their own individual aspirations to improve the quality and reach of their journalism. It’s absolutely about local to local news but it’s also about celebrating what’s happening in our communities across the UK and bringing those stories to the widest possible audience – yes on TV but also online and in print.

    It’s a similar approach to our Community Voices project, which worked with many local community digital media projects around England to get projects off the ground or to add value to their existing activity. For example, we worked with Vintage Radio in Birkenhead to develop community radio for older people by older people, Meadow Well Residents’ Association on an estate in North Shields to challenge stereotypes with digital photography and on a film project with Club Soda in Croydon to address the isolation that people with learning difficulties experience, amongst many others.

    Our experience through our Press Association partnership ‘Community Newswire’ is that there is an appetite for local news stories in the mainstream media, as much as there is an appetite locally to project relevant news from further afield. We hope this project will go some way to make those connections whenever and wherever the local community or mainstream media feel appropriate.

    This is about adding infrastructure that local people can use in whatever way suits them and hopefully to play a part in improving the quality and reach of citizen and community journalism that will mean we all have our voices heard and can all create positive change in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We’ll be working with local organisations across the UK. If you want to be involved or kept up to date – let us know.

    Caroline Diehl
    Chief Executive, Media Trust

    • I agree that there is an appetitive for local media and this is exactly the work we as People’s Voice Media have been working on across the Uk and Europe as part of our Community Reporter programme for the last 3 years. However, the main issue here is how the funding was obtained from the Lottery and the lack of transparency. There was no funding round on this. Different perspectives on how the objectives could be achieved were not explored. It’s a shame as my feeling is that if there had been then a partnership of organisation would have come together to achieve these objectives. This could still be achieved if the Media Trust is keen to work on a partnership bases rather than simply “working with local organisations across the UK “ There is a natural relationship between our 2 organisations and I am happy to have a chat with you about how we can work together . Something I have been pushing for a while. However, it does not change the main point that the Lottery is not operating a transparent process and in this case and in the case of the square mile has decided that these 2 projects are special cases and should be funded directly when there is great work being done on a local and national level that has not been taken into account.

  6. Caroline, your comment explains why Media Trust wanted the money, but it doesn’t explain why your bid was successful, nor does it answer the questions Gary raised about the bidding process.

  7. I think this highlights something that the sector as a whole is not good at. It is also something that national and local government have been floundering with for a while.
    Namely transparency at the Prime level and reaching out in an equal and accessible way when dealing with large contracts to re-distribute funding, which is what this is an example of.
    For medium and small community organisations the chance to be involved in, influence and shape large programmes is (in their eyes at least) non existent and the sudden announcement that X charity has a £185m grant from the lottery raises eyebrows and memories of the failed Millennium Projects. It is a failure of communication based on the expectance that only a ‘large national’ will have the interest or ability to manage a fund across the country. These organisations are usually, though not always, based in the capital and may not be well known to the rest of the country.

    I think it is incorrect and unhelpful of Gary to compare individual applications to Reaching Communities with the whole of the Community Voices funding. This funding is now open to community groups and available by the usual small grants type application (small meaning less than about £750m). However, I think there is some way to go in dealing with large funding and one-offs and we often hear that there are issues of ‘commercial confidence’ due to the bidding process, which itself is part of the fairness.

    Peter seems to have a very top-down view of how well his organisation connects with communities. While we have a gentle, but good working relation with the local representation from Big it has been scaled back in recent years and they now seem to be gathering information based on known agendas that are set far from any place-based needs. For instance, the Big Local Trust is definitely one where “we choose to focus demand onto solving specific problems”. But when everyone pricks up their ears at £150m of funding only to find that Big have made the decisions on where to spend it then there is a lot of eye-rolling in marginal communities!

    Are there solutions?

    For local transparency, many organisations are choosing to have live, interactive data sets available on the web. These are fully mapped and often have detail data and documents attached:
    Why not do the same for all Big grants????

    The Prime Problem seems much bigger but perhaps it is about making sure that no tenders are offered before interested parties have opted out or in? Also, how about a requirement for providers (eg Big) to evidence that they have reached a certain percentage of qualified providers before the bidding is closed? In this case it would mean that People’s Voices Media would have been aware of the offer and had a chance to turn down the opportunity to bid or form a constium. The National Probation Tendering is a drawn out process that includes a pre-qualification that mops up everyone in different levels (Prime through sub-sub) and has been designed so that parties have equal access, but are likely to be offered contracts at the right level at the right time.

    A little Development Officer
    In a little CVS
    In a little District
    In a Big county

  8. addendum
    (small meaning less than about £750m)
    should read
    (small meaning less than about £750k)


  9. I got a medal off CSV in 2006. I am a little community volunteer in a little village in a big county. Many times our group has applied for funding, for some great projects. We have never won any yet. We look at the groups who do win funding, and in our opinion many are very second rate projects, but if you have enough immigrants, blind, one legged, gay, spotty, disadvantaged, ethnic minority, very old, very young or otherwise disabled people you can get funding to bore them to bits.
    I don’t bother with trying to get any funding for owt now. We JFDI ourselves.
    A prime example is our computer club. We built it ourselves out of skips. We showed a community how to get online. The whole community is now online and outlying districts too. The centre is hardly used now, time to move on. (which we are doing). This proves the point, you hit when and where the need is greatest, do the job and start another one.
    We considered becoming an online centre, but it would have meant we bored the community to death, taught them stuff they didn’t want to know, spent hours ticking boxes and wasting time, but we would have had some new computers for our trouble. As it is, they would now not be needed. Our stuff from skips cost us nowt, and did the job far better.
    If there is to be funding in this world it has to go to groups who deliver the goods and make a solution, not to things that perpetuate the dependancy culture and employ folk to administer it. Look to the grassroots and help those trying to help themselves.

  10. Gary,

    The CX of BLF responded helpfully, and included a partial justification

    ” …… As it happens, the new investments announced at Salford were a clutch of four solicitations. The Media Trust is a fifth. In total they represent less than £10 million of our overall portfolio. None of this has been influenced by Government but flows from decisions made by our Non-Executive Directors…….”

    In which case, might you write to BLF Board or Chair and ask

    a) What were the evaluation criteria to be considered as a solicitation in the first instance, and then how did you become a solicitation that was put straight through to the Board

    b) Upon what basis will areas of public policy be judged worthy of solicitation by the BLF ? Can these be made public so we can all have a chance to solicit ?

    c) Can BLF publish the evaluation criteria for these 5 awards ; did more than 5 solicit or were they asked to solicit together ?

    d) Can BLF publish evaluation of outcomes for all previous solicitations that met the criteria to go straight to the Board and avoid the open, transparent and normal process ?

    e) How many solicitations has BLF awarded money to since it was founded, and on what basis ? Do solicitation awards lead to better outcomes than those following the normal process ?

    I think we should be told, but I’m not sure if BLF is subject to Freedom of Information, or is accountable to the public or Parliament.

  11. Interesting interview with Big Lottery Fund’s new Chair, Peter Ainsworth, see

    In the context of Gary’s post on Big Society funding the following comment are worth noting:

    “Two practical changes, not political ones, are causing most concern for charities. One is the decision to cap all lottery distributors’ administrative costs at 5 per cent by 2014. The BLF now spends 7.4 per cent, or £58m a year, and there are fears it will make fewer, larger grants to cut costs”

    Given the capping of admin costs, perhaps we can expect more deals behind closed doors leading to big chunks of funding being allocated to the big London based organisations – much easier & cheaper than tendering

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