Friday, January 28, 2005

Lottery tax blown on underperforming athletes

Much grinding of teeth over the news that Team GB’s medals at the Athens Olympics cost £2.4 million each in terms of lottery funding (Times Online - Sport). This was because large dollops of cash went to hopeless also-rans in sports where Britain hasn’t won medals since the days of chariots of fire- the ones run by Boudicca, that is.

But this is just one more example of how Lottery funds are chucked around as if they’re free money. Like the vast piles now being earmarked to shovel onto the next Great Fire of London, otherwise known as the 2012 Olympics.

According to Lord Coe and the other promoters of this grandiose folly, the use of Lottery funds means that the Olympic bid will not need to tap taxpayers. Well, London council taxpayers, yes, they’ll have to pay- through the nose and probably for ever- but they’re ruled by Krazy Ken, so Coe and his friends can hardly be blamed for that.

What doesn’t seem to be understood is that the state’s cut from the Lottery is tax, just as much as the taxes on fags and booze and telly watching are tax. They’re all voluntary taxes to be sure, but they are taxes nevertheless.

The difference from most taxes is that the Lottery tax is hypothecated for spending on various ‘good causes’, rather than being dropped into the general exchequer pot. The Lottery allocates 28% of ticket sale revenue to ‘good causes’, and since it began, this has amounted to £16 billion. In addition, the government has taken another £7 billion as duty. The punters get left with just 50% as prizes- much lower than virtually any other flutter, including those run by guys with broken noses and lots of gold jewellery.

Hypothecating a tax to fund the pet enthusiasms of our totally unaccountable Great and Good is a textbook recipe for waste, and the long list of soppy projects already funded is much too painful to rehearse here. The thought that it might now get used to drag us into an open-ended commitment to throw a disruptive party for our underperforming athletes, showboating politicians, and preening media types is bringing on one of my turns.

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