The process of choosing the next operator of the National Lottery was thrown into confusion yesterday (Tuesday) when Culture Minister Janet Anderson appeared to explicitly back Richard Branson’s not-for-profit bid to run the Lottery.
Anderson told a Parliamentary debate, in response to a question from shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth: “The Government has been and is still committed to a not-for-profit operator.” When Ainsworth asked her to clarify this, she repeated it.
Ainsworth says: “This is an astonishing intervention and quite a severe gaffe. It could be seen as an intervention in the bid process.”
Anderson’s statement comes at a particularly sensitive time, as the National Lottery Commission (NLC) chooses between Branson’s bid – which promises to give all profits to Good Causes – and a bid from Camelot, which will continue to take profits from running the Lottery. The NLC will make its decision by June.
A spokesman for the minister said the Government’s position on the issue was “irrelevant” as the choice of the next operator was solely down to the NLC, which will decide purely on the basis of which bidder can raise more money for the Good Causes.
Some sources suggest Anderson, who was standing in for Lottery Minister Kate Hoey at the debate, had made an error. But her spokesman would not confirm this.
If Anderson’s comment reflects Government policy, it will be yet another Labour U-turn on the issue of who runs the Lottery. In the 1997 election manifesto, Labour said it was committed to finding a not-for-profit lottery, but in Government it dropped this commitment in the 1998 Lottery Act. However, another spokesman contacted MW later last night to confirm the Government policy was unchanged since the Lottery Act.
Ainsworth says: “A U-turn has now become an S-bend.”