Saturday, 25 July 2015
Thursday, 23 July 2015
Obviously a little sensitive on this issue, she claimed that rather than not doing enough, the opposite is the case for the SNP, even though the Scottish Executive have “very limited powers available”.
We saw in the Scotland Bill that there has been an SNP capitulation (to the Tories)from their rhetoric in their Smith Commission submission, their manifesto and communiques. The SNP sought to table no substantial amendments to Tory policy. An acceptance that the Tory policy - through the SNP - is best for Scotland. Labour tabled substantial amendments that not only fulfilled those unmet SNP manifesto commitments but substantially strengthened Scottish devolved powers to deal with FOBTs.
The SNP claim Scotland has too few powers but if that is true, why did they table no substantial amendments to the Scotland Bill. The SNP claim that Scotland doesn’t have powers to deal with FOBTs but that’s a convenient untruth.
In the area of planning policy and regulation, the Scottish Executive have full authority. Last year, hot on the heels of a Westminster government consultation for England and Wales on the issue of planning and betting shops, the SNP launched their own Scottish consultation. Both proposals similarly concluded that betting shops should return to a “sui generis” class thus ensuring all proposed new betting premises would be required to seek a planning consent.
The proposal under the Scottish consultation was to remove the word “betting offices” from the current A2 use class category and transfer them to a category for “undefined use” along with amusement arcades, pubs and hot food takeaways. This was backed by Labour run Glasgow City Council which has the highest number of betting shops of anywhere in the UK.
Then in February this year came the sudden announcement by SNP ministers that they wouldn’t be seeing the consultation proposal through – it was dropped and so betting shops in Scotland would continue to open in any premises they wished with no consideration under planning consent. This was contradictory to the promises of Derek Mackay, the former SNP local government minister, said in 2014 that the Scottish government would change planning legislation to prevent the proliferation of betting shops and pay day loan shops. The SNP Scottish Government consultation proposed to do just that and Scotland has the devolved powers to implement this aspect of legislation, but didn’t.
Nicola Sturgeon is wrong to say they have taken action within the “limited powers” available to them, as the SNP have taken no action in the one area they already have full autonomy.
Sturgeon’s empty rhetoric has instead focused on an irrelevant piece of regulation to defend SNP wider inaction. The First Minister relates “action” to the very limited, bureaucratic and costly powers contained under Article 4 direction, which allows councils, subject to 12 months’ notice (or pay compensation), to implement an exclusion of new betting premises (A2) within a designated area. A small number of councils in England have tried this and the Local Government Association has said it doesn’t go far enough. Not least because in areas where this has been tried, there has been an influx of betting shop applications in the 12 month notice period.
As it stands now the Scotland Bill will allow the Scottish Government to vary the number of machines where the maximum stake is more than £10.00 but not the numbers on race tracks or at sporting events.
The question being asked in the boardrooms of the major betting chains, prompted by the proposals under the Smith Commission, is: how many FOBTs will the SNP allow bookmakers to have?
Will the power to set a limit be devolved to licensing authorities? Surely there has to be a centrally set number per premises to avoid such devolved powers becoming strategically incoherent? Some of these questions will be answered under the proposed consultation launched by Holyrood last week.
The SNP’s inaction and acceptance of Tory policies and Tory agenda is somewhat inexplicable. Despite denials of donations from betting operators, it is no secret that the family of one senior betting industry figure has assisted their independence campaign financially, whilst understanding some of their more of their direct donations is more difficult.
My amendments proposed for the Scottish Bill address areas of real concern emanating from betting shops and FOBTs, beyond those of just machine numbers but these amendments were not supported by the SNP at committee stage. What the SNP fail to recognise is that the speed and intensity of play at 20 seconds per spin, the addictive content when linked to maximum stakes of £100 are toxic and socially damaging. Given Nicola Sturgeon is keen to assert that the SNP are seeking powers to take “effective action” that Scotland would like to take maybe the SNP will backing my amendments to report stage of the Scotland Bill?
The current SNP & Tory position on the Scotland Bill of setting “stakes above £10” stake threshold to identify the machines that will fall under new devolved powers is a shortsighted SNP view that fails that is a capitulation to the Tories and and abandonment of working class communities.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
As you may be aware, on Thursday 16th July the Government rejected Newham Council's submission under the Sustainable Communities Act, which called for a reduction in the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 a spin to £2.
The proposal was the best supported submission under the Sustainable Communities Act to date. 93 councils backed the initial submission and a further two declared support for it after, taking the total number of supportive local authorities to 95, including Hyndburn.
The Government rejected the proposal, with Local Government Minister Marcus Jones MP blaming Councils for not dealing with the issues caused by FOBTs and betting shops. Mr. Jones implied that Councils had allowed multiple betting shops to open by granting them premise licenses, but he later undermined his own argument by acknowledging that Councils are hamstrung as they have to "aim to permit" gambling.
In April 2014, the Government announced very watered down measures for FOBTs that took a year to come into force. They require customers who wish to bet more than £50 a spin – or £150 a minute – to identify themselves to staff or sign up to a loyalty card.
£50 every 20 seconds is still far too high and unsafe, so it is dangerous for the Government to imply that this is an acceptable level for customers to be wagering. High levels of problem gambling occurs at a much lower staking levels anyway. For example, the Responsible Gambling Trust research found that around 80% of those that bet £13.40 or more were gambling problematically and it should be remembered that FOBTs are still available for play at up to £100 every 20 seconds.
Player tracking is unlikely to mean player protection when it will be left entirely up to the bookmakers to utilise the data from their higher staking customers to ensure they are preventing problem gambling. Bookmakers are aggressively marketing to their loyalty card holders, sending them multiple text messages each week to encourage further engagement with FOBTs at higher stakes.
The Campaign has received reports from staff that they are being encouraged to show customers how to play two FOBTs at the same time. Some operators only require a phone number, a name and an email address to enable access to stakes above £50 a spin, but only the phone number needs is verified and is then used for direct marketing.
Staff are also expected to confront problematic gamblers if they suspect they are experiencing harm. This puts the member of staff at extreme risk, especially when corporate bookmakers now operate a policy of lone staffing.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is not anti-gambling. We simply acknowledge that FOBTs are extremely addictive and high speed, high stake casino content does not belong in an easy access, supposedly soft gambling environment like betting shops.
Under the terms of the Sustainable Communities Act, the Local Government Association (LGA) – as a Selector – will re submit Newham's proposal and enter into negotiations with the Government for a period of six months. The Government has to come to agreement with the Selector within this timeframe.
We would welcome an opportunity to discuss how we might work together to support the LGA in its negotiations, and raise the profile of the issue in your constituency. Let us know if and when a meeting can be arranged at your convenience.
You can also read more about our response to the announcement in the Campaign's latest Central Lobby article.
Derek Webb Adrian Parkinson Matt Zarb-Cousin
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling Team
Lucy Knighton Press Officer
telephone: +44 (0)115 948 6900
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Sunday, 19 July 2015
I stepped back in time this week to take a walk down WaterAid’s Victorian street, experiencing the sights and smells of an era when open sewage ran through our roads and rivers, to mark 150 years of Britain’s modern sewers.
More than 100 parliamentarians met characters from Victorian times to discover what life was like during the Great Stink of 1858 to highlight WaterAid’s call for the UK Government to lead the way in ending the global water and sanitation crisis.
I also met some of the 115,056 supporters who signed the charity’s ‘Make It Happen’ petition, who came from across the country to discuss the importance of ensuring everyone everywhere has clean water to drink and somewhere safe to go to the toilet.
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
This follows a Europe-wide review of the sector which has resulted in five leading EU car rental companies committing to improving the way they deal with their customers.
The advice guide can be downloaded here and below is a screen grab to give you an idea of what it looks like.