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Government obligations under the Sustainable Communities Act

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling sets out its hopes for FOBT stake reduction to be enacted through the Sustainable Communities Act.

Steve Shaw, previously of Local Works, authored the italicised text below. This is very important to bear in mind in light of the proposal by Newham Council to reduce maximum stakes per spin on FOBTs from £100 to £2.

The Sustainable Communities Act (SCA) is, at its heart, a remarkable new process of governance: governance by co-operation and dialogue, instead of top-down diktat from Whitehall.

This little known about law gives communities, together with their local authorities and parish councils in England, the right to submit proposals for action from central government that would improve the social, environmental or economic wellbeing of their local communities.

When a proposal is submitted the government has a duty under the SCA to consult and, most importantly, to try to reach agreement with the Local Government Association (LGA) or the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) on whether and how the proposal can be implemented.

This statutory duty to consult and trying to reach agreement on a proposal made by a council, or a group of councils, is unique. The government and the LGA and NALC therefore signed a written agreement laying out a process for carrying out this duty.

Essentially the agreed process is that, if the government originally rejects a proposal it can be resubmitted by the LGA or NALC for negotiation between government and the LGA or NALC. This resubmission creates the ability for government to carry out its ‘trying to reach agreement’ duty by discussing alternatives or compromises to the original proposal. Dialogue, iteration and discussion are essential here, with the final decision on whether and how the proposal will be implemented taken together by the government and the LGA or NALC.

The agreed process states that at least three meetings will be held in order to have this iterative dialogue and discussion on a resubmitted proposal, i.e. to try to reach agreement, and if agreement is still not possible then a ministerial level meeting will be held. All this will occur within six months of a proposal resubmission.

I authored the original draft of the SCA and led the grass-roots campaign, called Local Works, for it to be put on the statute book. It was a wonderful campaign, with packed public meetings held across the country in villages, towns and cities which led to overwhelming cross party support from MPs.

Now this remarkable new process of governance - governance by co-operation and dialogue where Whitehall officials and ministers go beyond consulting and also try to reach agreement - is being tested. MPs should be watching closely to ensure the government carries out its duty.

The LGA re-submission of the Newham proposal, supported by over 90 other local authorities is the best supported proposal so far under the SCA. If government rejects it, then this will be the first SCA rejection of a submitted proposal.

The initial meeting with the LGA took place on January 28 2016 a fortnight after the re-submission. Present during the day were representatives from Newham, DCMS, DCLG and the Gambling Commission.

During discussions, Newham explained that stake reduction was the best mechanism for tackling the crime and behaviour issues caused by betting shop clustering. DCMS also claimed to be expecting a Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes in 2016, however, this review start date is still unknown.

The next step agreed was that a draft response would be sent by DCMS to the LGA by the end of March. March has passed – there has been no draft and neither of the other two meetings designated by the SCA protocol have happened. Furthermore, the six-month period will be over by the time Parliament recesses for summer on July 21.

Derek Webb of the Campaign had a very productive meeting recently with David Evennett and assessed that Mr. Evennett genuinely wants to resolve the FOBT issue satisfactorily a message that is directly on message with Tracey Crouch.

However, when Mr Webb asked Julie Carney, DCMS head of gambling “What was the strongest argument against stake reduction?” Ms Carney replied “We have to listen to the Gambling Commission.” Ms Carney both avoided the question and answered the question at the same time.

Sarah Harrison, the new Commission CEO, states that it will support stake reduction if there is clear case to do so. However, Ms Harrison is dealing with the legacy of others who have retired and Chair, Philip Graf who is retiring soon. The Commission had advised DCMS in the 2013 Triennial Review that the licensing objective of crime associated with gambling need not be considered and it is this failure that has led to the disjoint between it and local authorities. It has also facilitated a culture of acceptance of violence in betting shops with tragic consequences for some staff.

An unelected quango, failing to deliver its motto of “Keeping gambling fair and safe for all” must not be trusted by government. Historical self-serving bias at the quango must not be allowed to over-ride SCA obligations by government.

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