Please note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.
There were signs of the beginnings of a rare consensus developing at PMQs today, over the deeply worrying problem of the spread of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals that can see high street gamblers lose up to £300 a minute.
Labour’s motion in the House of Commons this afternoon seems to have been accompanied by a slightly bizarre political somersault from Eltham MP Clive Efford, who spends a good deal of his time enjoying being Labour’s Shadow Minister for Sport. The Prime Minister pointed out during PMQs that as recently as November, Mr Efford was arguing that there is “no evidence to support a change to stakes and prizes” on the machines – and yet today he has been talking in totally contradictory terms about “pulling the plug” on them.
The other awkward point that our local MP neglected to mention during his national media rounds today is that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals were introduced in the UK in 2001, after the last Labour government relaxed gambling regulations, and were given legal backing in Labour’s 2005 Gambling Act. A Labour politician with a short memory – who’d have thought it? (One Labour politician who can’t be accused of that is Tom Watson, who yesterday admitted to BBC News that Labour “dropped the ball” on gambling while in office).
It is unfortunate that this afternoon’s debate amounted to little more than Labour posturing for partisan political purposes over what is in fact a deeply serious issue affecting communities across the country.
We saw a similar attempt to exploit this issue here in Greenwich at last month’s council meeting, with Labour councillors introducing a similar motion calling on the government to give councils more powers to deal with the problem. Much to their surprise and annoyance, this received cross-party backing, with opposition Conservative councillors speaking and voting in support.
This seemed to come as a particularly deep disappointment to Labour cabinet member Cllr Denise Hyland, who had just sat down from one of her usual hectoring, moralising performances – on this occasion criticising Conservative councillors in advance for a position that they never had any intention of taking.
Sitting in the gallery for that meeting I was also pleased to hear Cllr Nigel Fletcher raise concerns, that he and I share, over the parallel problem of the spread of payday lenders on our high streets and shopping parades. This is something I feel particularly strongly about and that Greenwich & Bexley Credit Union (where I am board member), is doing a lot of work to combat locally.
While the bulk of payday lending is conducted online, the fact that bookies with FOBTs often appear only doors away from physical payday loan shops is another worrying aspect of this problem. It is troubling that for all the bluster from the opposition benches in Westminster today, the link between gambling problems and the often ‘enabling’ business practices of these payday lenders is being missed.
Despite this, however, the growing consensus against the current regulations that allow Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to spread is surely a welcome one. Instead of exploiting the problem for party political purposes as Labour sought to do today, we need to wait for the evidence to be presented and take sensible, measured, action to deal with it.
The government is right to wait for its current review to conclude. When that happens, I would be willing to wager that we will in fact see the regulatory changes that are needed to stop the spread of these deeply damaging machines.