Please note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.
I am very pleased to report that my amendment on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which sought to toughen the council’s stance against their spread and improve its own signposting to gambling charities, was passed at last night’s council meeting. This was a rarity – an occasion where we were able to put party politics to one side and agree what is absolutely needed on this issue, which is a united front from both sides of the council chamber.
It came at the end of a long council meeting which I’ve given a whistle-stop tour below.
I’ve written before on my views of FOBTs, which are a truly pernicious invention that I believe are causing significant harm in our communities. The more I have learned about these machines – where you can gamble up to £100 ever 20 seconds (casino gambling on fast-forward) – the more I have become convinced that regulation is needed to halt their damaging impact.
Cllr Wynn Davis proposed a welcome motion calling on the council to write to the Sports Minister, Helen Grant, in support of moves to reduce the maximum stake to £2. My amendment (seconded by my colleague Cllr Matt Clare and at item 22 here) called on the council to go further and implement two of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s other recommendations – for regulation to reduce the number of terminals per shop from a maximum of 4 to just 1, and to increase the minimum time between spins from 20 seconds to 60 seconds. I believe that along with the reduction in stakes, these two measures are crucial in reducing the availability and often addictive properties of FOBTs.
As I noted last night in Cllr O’Mara’s separate talking shop motion on obesity (item 19 here), I also believe that council motions should veer away from making grand statements about what other bodies, such as government, should be doing without considering what it can do itself on the same subject. This is why my amendment also strengthens the council’s signposting to gambling charities. At present, this is a afforded a single sentence on the council’s website, buried in the section on men’s health. I would like to see this given equal prominence to debt and welfare on the site’s main advice portal, and the amendment commits the council to exploring how this can be achieved.
It also asks officers to review how signposting can be best integrated into the council’s customer contact processes – for example, ensuring that residents are signposted to gambling charities in the small number of cases where gambling may emerge as an underlying cause of financial difficulty during the council tax arrears collection process.
These are issues on which both sides of the chamber agree, and I was pleased that the political compromise I offered in my motion – namely, referring to successive governments’ record on FOBTs rather than the present one – was accepted by Labour councillors. The terminals were, after all, introduced in 2001 when regulations were relaxed, and given legal backing in the 2005 Gambling Act – both under Labour governments, and as Cllr Davies noted in his remarks, Labour figures such as Harriet Harman have admitted that they dropped the ball on their spread.
I would however like to see more be done nationally, and I’m pleased that the motion will continue Greenwich Conservatives’ track record of working across party lines to help tackle problem gambling in our borough – as well as leading to local action on signposting.
London Living Wage
As the meeting fell in Living Wage Week, I also raised the welcome rise in the London Living Wage and repeated my call for the Leader of the Council Cllr Denise Hyland (now on Twitter thanks to some badgering from me and others!) to set a target end date for all council sub-contractors to pay the London Living Wage. At present this is true of council employees, but not of all employees at the network of subsidiary spin-off companies the council has set up or other bodies that have been contracted. I believe this would be a straightforward way of demonstrating the council’s commitment to the fight against low pay – by strengthening officers’ hand in future contract negotiations. Alas, it was another ‘no’, but I will keep at this one.
As it appears that the council is preparing for the end of Greenwich Time – see more from Darryl at 853 here – Cllr Hyland confirmed to Leader of the Opposition Spencer Drury that they were thinking ahead to what she called ‘Plan B’, while ‘Plan A’ remained “fighting the Secretary of State to the bitter end”. How much is this going to cost taxpayers? As I wrote after my speech on this in June, the game is up on Greenwich Time, and the sooner Labour councillors accept that, the better.
War memorials petition
The administration is proving similarly inflexible on the state of war memorials in Greenwich, as my colleague Spencer Drury handed in a petition of more than 800 signatures calling for full restoration before the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Our motion on this last night called for the Leader to take personal responsibility for this, and to set a date by which it will be complete – which she continually refuses to do.
The rest of the meeting
There was a powerful public deputation from members of the Rochester Way Social Club, a crucial community asset which has been earmarked for closure by the council (more at the News Shopper here) as well as a barnstorming performance from Unite’s Onay Kasab on the union’s recent dispute with GLL over Greenwich libraries. There was also a quiet announcement that the council’s ludicrous and outdated moratorium on recording council meetings is to come to an end as part of the current constitutional review – although I’m still not clear that this means web streaming will be introduced as I have long argued it should be.
All in all, a mixed bag of a meeting – but I’m delighted to have secured action on FOBTs and look forward to building on this in the future.