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The news on the street is that there could be up to £5bn lying dormant in British bank accounts. Accounts orphaned by the death of their owners, forgotten by divorced couples or opened for children who never had the pleasure of seeing them grow.

These are accounts that haven’t been touched for 15 years and, so the reasoning goes, ought to be reclaimed or put to good use until they are reclaimed.

There will be extra funding for disadvantaged groups in deprived areas. But possibly not as much as many of us would like. In reality, it could be a bit like that film, How to lose a guy in ten days, except this one will be about how to lose more than £4.5bn in roughly ten seconds.

Losing the first £4bn is a cinch. The new commission on dormant accounts says the amount in question could be between £1bn and £5bn. Err on the side of caution and assume it’s £1bn.

It also says 60% could be reclaimed. This leaves £400m to go to disadvantaged communities. In Ireland, where a similar scheme was launched in 2003, there’s a requirement to maintain a 15% reserve for administration and possible reclaims. That takes us down to a humble £340m. To use a sterling analogy, you’re shedding the pounds long before reaching the first hurdle.

It stands to reason that fund’s administrators - like all funders - will want to see discernible impacts. This could mean that some of the more complex, deep-rooted and long-term initiatives miss out. Like a very hungry hydra, such projects have too many mouths to be satisfied in a few short years.

Projects that can count the number of people walking though their doors or the number of bums on seats may well be the funders’ favourites.

But even if it’s a multi-million pound fund instead of a multi-billion pound fund it will be additional money for regeneration and the first major allocations are due in April 2007.

In Ireland, there were 1,600 applicants for the first round of funding. Around one third were successful: that means more than 500 projects getting funds to help address social and educational disadvantage in some of the country’s poorest communities.

As early Christmas presents go, this one is beautifully wrapped and has been ceremoniously presented. We can’t open it yet, but it may well contain a few surprises.

Susan Downer, assistant editor

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