Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today told Parliament that 122 (82 per cent) of the 150 National Lottery Charities Board funded projects examined by the National Audit Office were progressing as planned. These projects bring real improvements to the lives of disadvantaged people. For example, one project in Edinburgh has provided theatre training workshops for young disadvantaged people to help them improve their confidence and develop skills. Another project, this time in Nottingham, was about improving access to health services for the Vietnamese community. Of the remaining projects, although the level of service or activity provided was less than that set out in the approved grant application, in most cases some progress had been made.
The National Audit Office extrapolated the results of their examination across the population of projects awarded grants of £20,000 and over from the Charities Board’s first three main grants programmes – a total of almost 4,800 projects with grants totalling over £460 million. This indicates that grant awards of between £315 million and £393 million have been given to projects that are progressing as planned, and grant awards of between £67 million and £145 million have been given to projects that were either only partly providing or not providing the planned level of service or activity. This analysis should not be used to draw firm conclusions about how successful the projects might be in the longer term; for those projects where there has been a delay, in most cases the planned level of service or activity has been delivered in the end.
Many of the projects which had not progressed as planned involved the acquisition or refurbishment of premises. The National Audit Office consider that the Charities Board could have done more to identify and take account of the risks that such projects involve. The Charities Board have recently introduced changes to their grant application assessment procedures to address this.
Timely submission of progress reports by grant recipients provides the Charities Board with their main source of information on how their money is being used on individual projects. In 11 out of 132 cases where project progress reports were due, the reports had either been submitted over a year late or were still outstanding.
The Charities Board’s project monitoring arrangements have evolved over the period that they have been awarding grants and the arrangements that they now have in place line up well with good practice. However, the National Audit Office identified a number of areas where they could be further improved. In particular, they recommended that the Charities Board should:
- continue to identify factors that prevent projects progressing as planned and pay particular attention to those factors when approving grants and monitoring achievements;
- develop further guidance and training for grants officers so that they have the necessary skills and expertise to monitor effectively the progress of projects and to carry out probing project visits;
- take prompt and decisive action as soon as their project monitoring indicates problems on individual projects;
- press ahead with the planned implementation of arrangements for obtaining assurance that assets obtained with the Charities Board’s grant are being used for the purposes intended after the period of grant; and
- give early attention to developing and implementing a programme of evaluation which would assess the overall impact of the Charities Board’s grant payments.