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The Heritage Lottery Fund has successfully supported projects which help preserve the UK’s heritage and make it more accessible, according to a new report published today by the National Audit Office.

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The NAO report examines the funding of heritage projects since 1994 and the effectiveness of the Fund’s grant-making processes. In awarding £3.8 billion of lottery funding to 24,000 projects, the Fund has supported projects delivering a range of benefits, such as restoring and conserving heritage assets, providing new facilities and opportunities for learning and access, and creating greater public awareness and involvement in heritage.Its robust processes have led to better, more sustainable projects but it now needs to do more to promote swifter delivery of heritage projects and provide better support to applicants and grant recipients.

Most projects have been delivered to cost, according to the report. However 17 per cent of completed projects have gone over-budget by an average £293,000 and 6 per cent have received an average £176,000 of additional grant to help meet cost increases. And although many projects have been delivered on time, around a quarter (26 per cent) have been delivered late – with half of these taking an additional six months or longer. Overruns, according to the report, have mainly been the result of unanticipated events during construction and poor planning, as well as a lack of project management skills by some applicants.

The Fund’s grant-making processes are robust and practical but more can be done to assist projects. Specific recommendations in the report address reducing administrative burdens on applicants; assessing applications more quickly; developing the support and training offered to applicants, monitoring projects more closely as they progress; and setting in place a system to share knowledge between applicants. The Fund should now also review its approach to partnership funding and continue to develop how it captures the benefits arising out its grant-giving.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund has done valuable work in preserving the UK’s heritage and promoting access to it. However, it needs to do more to simplify its procedures, to provide better support to applicants and grant recipients and to reduce time and cost overruns.”

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO


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