I have to acknowledge the innovative approach to funding community groups taken by one local Council. They’re launching a lottery and are promising that 50% of the ticket money will be given to good causes. I remember years ago when working on a hospice project looking at the economics of local lotteries. They can be very good ways to grow income.
However the tragedy of lotteries is that too often, it is those who cannot really afford to play who gamble money they cannot afford in the hope of winning. The lure of a prize keeps them buying tickets. The links between lotteries and poverty are well documented. What’s more many I suspect will be unhappy to see their Council promoting gambling; it certainly runs counter to my values as a Quaker.
So what is the answer? Government funding cuts continue to bite, yet local authorities have a statutory obligation to support the vulnerable in our society. It’s a tough place to be. But I think the answer lies oddly in democracy itself.
Councils are, when you think about it, community enterprises that operate for the good of those that live within its borders. To me, parish, district and county councils are social enterprises, democratically managed by people we elect from amongst us to run services on our behalf.
Yet somehow, this fact of collective ownership and collective responsibility seems to have been forgotten. Party politics doesn’t help, nor does a reluctance to take any risk. So what is the answer? I think it’s time Councils started to see themselves as social enterprises.
Councils face a unique opportunity to innovate and generate income in a variety of ways. They have the advantage of being trusted organisations, with ready access to affordable finance, professional staff and often assets that could be more creatively used.
The solution I feel is not for big change led from the top, but many small steps taken by those at the grassroots of the organisation. New partnerships, blending council management skills with charitable expertise can transform services, making them more profitable and better too.
Success will not come from hiring in experts who claim to have the answers. Better to listen to those that ask the right questions. Better to support front line staff in developing and testing new ideas. That way everybody can win, not just the person lucky enough to buy the winning ticket.