Shropshire’s resilience lies in its communities so why won’t Shropshire Council support them?

I proposed a community lottery in 2017 on behalf of the Lib Dem group. Council members votes to investigate the concept. But the proposal was kicked into touch by Shropshire Council’s deputy leader, Steve Charmley.  

There is everything in favour of a community lottery. More than 100 councils already operate a community lottery. Some councils see it as a way of replacing the money they have cut from local budgets. Other just want to help communities in any way they can.

Sadly, Shropshire Council looks to Shirehall not to our communities. That must change.

At the December 2017 meeting of Shropshire Council, I put forward a motion calling for the council to investigate setting up a community lottery. Before it was discussed, I felt the need to go to the gents. Steve Charmley appeared alongside me – whether of necessity or out of the desire to lobby me I do not know. But he said – I don’t know what to do about the community lottery motion as “we are already doing it”. A short while afterwards, he repeated the same message to the assembled council. The motion to explore a lottery was passed unanimously.

There has never been any evidence that any discussions on a community lottery had taken place within Shropshire Council before my motion.

It was a full year later before a meeting was set up to discuss a lottery and that was starting from scratch. The meeting was positive towards the idea of a lottery but there was dissent from the representative of the Shropshire VCS Assembly who was nervous that it would draw money from its charities. All the evidence is that community lotteries expand income and allow smaller groups such as village halls and wildlife groups to take part in fundraising through a lottery.

Council lotteries are particularly attractive because purchasers get to choose where 50 per cent of the ticket price goes. That encourages volunteers to go out and sell the online tickets. Another 10 per cent goes into a general good causes fund for the area. It costs money to run anything and 17 per cent goes to administration and 3 per cent is sacrificed to the Treasury in VAT which can often be reclaimed.

The remaining 20 per cent is paid out in prizes.

It is straightforward for community groups to apply to benefit from the lottery. The whole point of the setup is that the complicated bit, the lottery licence, is held by the council.

People buying tickets have a 1 in 50 chance of winning a prize ranging from three free tickets to £25,000.

But Steve Charmley is a centralising politician. He is not a community man. It was Charmley that closed the Coder Road Household Recycling Centre after two consultations. The second consultation was launched after the first revealed outright opposition to the closure. To his discomfort, the second consultation came out with the same result. He closed the facility anyway as a meeting where only he could vote.

Charmley wanted to kill off the idea. I am sure that was his intention at the outset. In response to a question from me in July 2019, he said a community lottery will divert money from other causes and that it will encourage gambling. That’s a bit rich coming from the Conservative party which introduced the National Lottery which only gives 24 pence in a pound towards good causes compared to 60 pence in a community lottery. But he made clear the real reason is that it will not generate an income stream for the council and the council is not going to help communities unless it can make a profit out of them.

It is time we have a council that supports communities and realises they can achieve a lot that the council cannot hope to deliver. A community lottery will be a good start towards supporting local groups, many of which are cash strapped after coronavirus decimated their income.

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