The UK Government are finally moving in the right direction on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), but today’s announcement is a missed opportunity to take necessary action to drastically reduce the maximum stake of gaming machines now.
The government’s dithering raises questions about their willingness to deal with gambling harm. It is clear full devolution of gambling policy needs to happen now for Scotland to tackle problem gambling more effectively.
Fixed-odds betting terminals aren’t just destroying individuals lives, but their families and communities too. In my constituency of Inverclyde, cash inserted in FOBTs was over £11.5m in 2016, with losses amounting to nearly £3m. This cannot continue.
The Government have a duty to support those affected by gambling related harm and ensure more funding is made available to GambleAware and the National Problem Gambling Clinic, to support individuals and families whose lives have been affected by gambling related harm and these machines.
I also call on the gambling industry to do more to recognise the rise in problem gambling and ensure they start to contribute significant funds to address gambling related harm. The industry are part of the problem but also part of the solution.
Since the success of the Harry Potter books many people have compared the palace of Westminster to Hogwarts. The palace with its Neo-Gothic stone façade contains corridors with encaustic tiled floors and walls lined with canvasses depicting dead heroes from forgotten campaigns. The large lobbies that connect the corridors are adorned with massive ornate brass chandeliers and marble statues of past Prime Ministers, saints and sovereigns. Stained glass windows, wooden panelling and leather seats with the portcullis motif combine to complete the setting. Late in the evening when the tourists have gone and the estate is quiet I can hear my own footsteps echo as I walk these corridors and it is easy to imagine the ghosts of past parliamentarians walking behind me their breath hanging in the cold air. In the shadows it’s possible to believe there are figures moving slowly, maybe an ancient Lord, maybe Lord Voldemort. And as an accompaniment there are costumes and role playing. Events are stage managed and all attempts are made to support an insular environment. Faux politeness is maintained to disguise the undercurrent of mistrust and people are not what they appear to be. Amidst the staging, disguises and scripts it is the task of all elected members to see Westminster as it is, not a palace, museum or theatre but a malfunctioning bastion of bureaucracy. The job entails staying in touch with the real world, facing up to real problems and creating real solutions and that means most importantly not falling under the spell of Westminster. Not even at Halloween.
A change to my usual routine means I don’t have to go to Westminster until Wednesday. This allows me to spend Monday and Tuesday assisting, or hindering, my office team with the continual stream of casework that my constituency office attracts. And it varies from passport and visa issues to housing, transport and welfare. I am becoming increasingly convinced that Inverclyde requires a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. We are one of two of the thirty two Scottish councils that don’t have one.
Was mostly spent reading the councils budget proposals and writing articles. The variety of tasks that my job offers me never ceases to amaze me but sometimes simply reading and writing is the greatest pleasure.
My slumber is rudely disturbed by my 5am alarm but the good thing about an early start is the road to the airport is quiet. My flight is on time and I make Parliament comfortably by 9:30. I read my briefing papers for the procedure committee on the plane and later in the day we take evidence from the Hansard Society regarding a sifting committee to handle the mass of legislation that Brexit is going to generate in, what for government, is a very short period of time. If Brexit was planned over a ten year time span then it could be done. The outcome wouldn’t be to my liking but robust processes and legislation would be in place. Given the timescale we are working to, that is not going to happen. Scottish Questions consisted of the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, spouting forth about extra powers to the Scottish government and being unable to name one. This is a man that during the Scottish independence referendum continually complained that the SNP were dragging Scotland out of the European Union and today he moaned that we were dragging Scotland into the European Union. You just can’t please some people. Prime Ministers Question time was devoid of any interest unlike an evening event I attended which was hosted by the renewable energy sector. Over the past two years I have been courting renewable energy companies to locate in Inverclyde and although process is slow I still believe there is a possibility. Inchgreen dry dock could play a large part in any negotiations and leaving it effectively mothballed under private ownership when it could be creating work for the local community is nothing short of a crime.
Business questions used to be one of the more entertaining and collegiate events in the chamber but since Andrea Leadsom has taken over the role it has deteriorated. Today she was noticeably rude in her responses, a trait that is becoming increasingly obvious when government ministers are responding to the SNP benches. It’s like they have just realised that we are not going to stop holding them to account and they are becoming irritated and petulant. Despite wide spread disruption my flight to Glasgow was on time. Maybe being on the select committee for transport has its bonuses!
I try to meet with senior council officers on a regular basis. This helps me keep up to date with the issues they face and also helps to create a better working environment. Today I met Scott Allan and as you would expect we discussed the regeneration of Inverclyde. Along with the need to attract companies to Inverclyde it is hugely important that we look after the ones we have. With that in mind I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend part of my day visiting both Cigna and RPC/BPI.
Growing up in Greenock in the 1960s my political influences were subliminally derived from day to day life. For me, as a kid, life was like television, black and white. There were good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, rich and poor. Back then the area still bore the scars from the Second World War. Gap sites still existed side by side with crumbling tenements. Housing conditions, in some parts, were Dickensian. And while the poor were dirt poor everybody had hope in the welfare system and the NHS. Social housing building was progressing at pace and a new world was just around the corner. But social housing was destroyed during the Thatcher years and is only now, under an SNP administration at Holyrood, moving in the right direction. And the NHS, despite its detractors, is still cherished and protected in Scotland. Through the decades the welfare system has been adjusted and tweaked to cater for social conscience and working practices but somewhere on the journey it has become so cumbersome, so complicated, that it often fails the people who need it most. The latest example being Universal Credit. The evidence is that it causes unnecessary hardship, with families falling behind in rent payments and increasingly relying on food banks. The Conservative Government at Westminster is making promises to improve the system but Universal Credit has been rolled out in Inverclyde since November last year. We are already suffering because of UK government incompetence and callous disregard. Meanwhile the Scottish government are being criticised for being forward thinking and considering a Basic Income. To design a Scotland fit for the 21st century we need to be brave and welcome big ideas rather than retreat into political silos. Some will fly, others will fail but the solutions aren’t all black and white like my old television. The complexities of modern life require well thought out evidence based policies and we shouldn’t wait until the welfare system is crumbling around us before we make moves to rebuild it.
The Aviva Community Fund awards funding of up to £25,000 for local community projects across a range of categories such as health & wellbeing, skills for life and community support.
I would encourage residents of Inverclyde to visit the Aviva Community Fund website and vote for the Inverclyde projects who are nominated.
Aviva Community Fund
Despite the autumn chill, a national survey shows that more than a third of households (35%) in Scotland have not checked that their central heating is working and nearly four in ten have not prepared their home for winter by getting their boiler serviced. Having an annual boiler service carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer is crucial as it detects problems with the boiler and controls, including whether it is leaking poisonous carbon monoxide.
Keeping homes safe is an important part of winter preparation, yet only four in ten households in Scotland have checked that their carbon monoxide alarm is working. Carbon monoxide is known as the ‘silent killer’, because the gas has no odour or taste, and is invisible. Fitting an audible alarm is the second line of defence against carbon monoxide poisoning.
I delayed my departure to London so I could visit Financial Fitness along with Councillor Liz Robertson. Financial Fitness provide an invaluable service helping people negotiate their way through the trials and tribulations of modern life during these days of Conservative government austerity. With Universal Credit taking six weeks to provide the first payment, PIP assessments appeals taking nineteen weeks in Inverclyde and food bank referrals up by nearly seventy percent, Financial Fitness have a hugely important role to play in supporting those most vulnerable in our society. A quick dash to the airport was of course followed by a slow delay! I arrived in time to make the start of the select committee on transport. It was an interesting session with the Secretary of State for transport, Chris Grayling, giving evidence to the committee on his department’s priorities, the electrification u-turn and of course Brexit. I also took the opportunity to quiz him about coastguard cuts.
Started with the select committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC). The Institute of Government provided us with a private briefing on government bodies and their current suitability to handle Brexit. I then met with Sabrinna Valisce. She had been a prostitute working in New Zealand and had supported the decriminalisation of the purchasing of sex. Once the law was changed she witnessed the horrendous consequences. She now supports the Nordic Model where the selling of sex is decriminalised but the purchase is still illegal. It is tremendously brave of Sabrinna to tell her story and she deserves to be listened to. I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Emmanuel Cocher (consular general France). We usually only meet during the wreath laying ceremony at the Cross of Lorraine on Remembrance Sunday. This time we had time to discuss Brexit (what else?) and the special relationship between Scotland and France. After that I was up in front of the Backbench business committee with Caroline Lucas. We are jointly bidding for a debate on the treaty for nuclear disarmament that 122 countries have endorsed but not the UK. I dropped in to an event on responsible gambling and then attended a debate on the Use of devolved powers in Scotland. The debate was no more than an opportunity for the Scottish conservatives to talk down the Scottish Government and Scottish parliament. Which was a great shame as it could have been a joint attempt to improve the powers at Holyrood.
I started the day with the Devolved and Constitutional powers group. Most of the conversation was about the repatriation of powers from Brussels to the UK and avoiding a power grab at Westminster. I then met constitution Rob Behrens. Rob is the parliamentary and health service ombudsman and works with the select committee on public administration and the constitution, as well as being held to account by it. It’s an interesting situation. I dropped in to Macmillan’s parliamentary coffee morning and managed a slice of chocolate cake before heading to prime Ministers question time. I should have stayed for more cake. In the last year Inverclyde has received over fourteen million pounds in big lottery funding so I dropped in to their event to catch up and assure them it is being spent wisely. The main debate in the House of Commons was to pause and fix the universal credit roll out. It was an ill-tempered affair and having been roundly criticised the government then abstained on the vote. At the end of the evening I caught up with a delegation from Catalonia that had come to report on the recent referendum there. During the day I managed to squeeze in a blood test for anaemia and get a flu jab.
First thing in the morning I travelled out to Glazier’s Hall at London Bridge where I chaired the Westminster energy environment and transport forum. It was an opportunity for politicians and business people to discuss a wide range of topics but primarily large infrastructure projects. The main concern from the business sector was a lack of long term planning from government. It was heartening to hear so many people cite the Scottish government’s good practice in infrastructure, broadband and renewables, not perfect but moving in the right direction. I caught a mid-afternoon flight home which for the young boy in the seat in front of me was a voyage of vomit, sick bags and wet wipes. I hope he is feeling better now.
I had my monthly catch up with Inverclyde Council Chief Executive, Aubrey Fawcett where we discussed a range of topics and I visited Cloch housing association (Care and Repair) with Councillor John Crowther. The remainder of the day was consumed by case work.