Northumberland County Council lottery slammed as a 'gimmick' to 'pay for Tory cuts'

A Northumberland Lottery to support local good causes is set to hold its first draw early next year, but has been slammed as a ‘gimmick that targets those with the least’.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 07 August, 2019, 06:00
Stock picture from Pixabay

As previously reported, Northumberland County Council is planning to set up its own lottery, with at least half of every ticket sold going to charities and community groups.

The proposal was given the go-ahead by the cabinet at its meeting on August 6 and will see the council use Gatherwell, a management service which runs lotteries for around 80 local authorities nationally.

But the leader of the opposition Labour group, Coun Susan Dungworth, claimed the ‘Tory gamble on a lottery is not the way to pay for cuts’.

She said the proposal ‘leaves a bad taste at a time when Labour councillors are running holiday hunger programmes across the county to make sure children aren’t going without food’.

Coun Dungworth added: “Not only would the council have to sell an astronomical amount of tickets to see any kind of return on investment, but marketing this campaign as a fix-all solution puts pressure on ordinary people, many of who are struggling to make ends meet, to stump up money to pay for a shortfall in council funding.

“A lottery is the last thing Northumberland needs. To better support community projects we need investment, not a gimmick that targets those with the least.”

But at the meeting, council leader Peter Jackson said: “This is not an alternative to county council funding, it’s additional to anything that is already going on across Northumberland.

“It should be an incredibly helpful tool for our communities.”

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, added: “It’s a proven model, it’s been run successfully elsewhere in the country.”

People would be able to buy £1 tickets from a website and choose which local charity or group they wished to support, with 50p of each ticket going to the selected good cause.

Of the other half, 10p would go to the council to cover the running costs, with any excess going into the Community Chest scheme, while 37p would go to Gatherwell (20p for the prize fund and 17p for admin costs). The final 3p is VAT.

Players choose six numbers from 0 to 9, with prizes ranging from three free tickets for matching two numbers up to £25,000 for getting all six – albeit the odds of this are a million to one.

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The proposal was discussed by the council’s corporate services committee last month, where Coun Oliver said that it came about on the back of the popularity and success of the Community Chest programme.

He added: “We want to try as a council to engage more with voluntary groups, community groups and charities and the way officers have found to do this could be potentially very strong.”

One of the concerns raised at that meeting was whether the scheme was promoting gambling.

This week, Coun Veronica Jones, the cabinet member for adult health and wellbeing, said she had those same concerns, but was satisfied that the right measures were in place.

Coun Cath Homer added: “The voluntary and community sector is generally supportive of this and sees it as a good way of supporting individual causes across the county, so long as those safeguarding measures are in place.”

As a council-run lottery, the local authority would control oversight and governance as well as being responsible for obtaining a licence from the Gambling Commission, but the prize fund is underwritten by Gatherwell, so there is no risk or exposure to the council.

The proposed initial set-up costs to the council of £8,850 are expected to result in a shortfall of around £5,600 in 2019-20, but be fully recovered by year two based on forecast ticket sales.

Annual recurring costs for licences and membership of the Lotteries Council, plus a recommended yearly marketing budget of £2,000, would total £3,820, but it is estimated that this would be covered from the 10 per cent of ticket sales the council would receive.

Captions: Labour leader Coun Susan Dungworth.

Council and Conservative leader Coun Peter Jackson.

Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services.