Cast your minds back 16 years. November 1994 was a month like any other, packed with incident and happenstance, much of which has now been consigned to the recycling bin of history.
The Channel Tunnel took its first passengers, George Foreman (he of the low-fat grill) became – at 45 – the oldest ever heavyweight champion of the world, and George W Bush was elected Governor of Texas. Sweden said ‘yes’ to joining the EU in a referendum while two weeks later – in an unusual display of Scandinavian disunity – Norway said ‘no’, and Let me be your Fantasy by Baby D was the UK no.1 (no, me neither).
And on the 19th of that month,16 years ago to the day, the National Lottery started life.
Since that time, the Lottery has become a national institution which has paid out nearly £40 billion in prizes to individual players, and £25 billion for good causes during its short life. And one of the reasons the public have taken it to their hearts so thoroughly is that, right from the start, people knew where they were with it.
You bought a ticket for a pound, crossed your fingers and started planning what you would do with the winnings. But, even if you didn’t win, a big slice of your stake went to ‘good causes.’ And that good cause component was simple and easy to understand too. The arts, sport, heritage and charities, four areas that were so often overlooked by Government, were chosen to benefit from a secure funding stream that would be distributed at arm’s length of Government and political interference.
And thousands of brilliant projects from around that time would simply never have happened without the Lottery. Tate Modern, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Globe Theatre in London and the Kennet and Avon Canal are all huge successes, thanks to people in their millions having a flutter on a Saturday night. But, as the Satanic Chief Whip Francis Urquhart says in House of Cards, ‘Nothing lasts forever’ and so it was with the Lottery good causes. Changes were made and before you could say ‘Additionality’, a bunch of new good causes came into being and the original formula became just a happy memory and you needed a calculator to work out each good cause’s share.
But all these changes had a catastrophic effect on the amount of money going from the Lottery into the arts, sport and heritage. For each of the original good causes, it fell from £306 million in 1995 before dwindling to £204 million last year.
Orginal good causes
I’m pleased to report that we’ve now put this right by giving the good causes the same share of the total pot that they enjoyed in 1994. The arts, sport and heritage will each get at least an extra £50 million a year. And still more when the Olympic diversion comes to an end in under two years’ time. Sports facilities, theatres, museums and our much-loved heritage buildings will all be winners.
But another thing that makes the Lottery such an important part of life in the UK in the 21st century is the real help it gives to the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS), the heartbeat of so much that’s good and worthwhile, and so very central to our ideas for a Big Society. Our changes won’t take anything at all away from the VCS. Quite the reverse, in fact, because along with our changes to the shares received by each good cause, we will also be issuing a direction to The Big Lottery Fund requiring them to focus their awards on the CVS in future.
As the Lottery celebrates its 16th birthday it is somehow fitting that we can take it back to first principles.