Politics First [06/2016]

My article in Politics First, June 2016, on Dormant Betting Accounts.

Back in 2010 a report was prepared for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by the then Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster on the subject of dormant betting accounts. The report considered whether money from unclaimed winnings and dormant betting accounts should be used to fund improving sports provision. For those who aren’t aware, dormant betting accounts are those accounts which haven’t been touched or utilised by gamblers for years. In said accounts there could be sums of money which ‘punters’ have forgotten about, possibly due to having multiple betting accounts with different bookmakers or forgetting their log in details.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to quantify the amounts held in dormant betting accounts as the bookmakers are unprepared to indicate, partly because many of them take the money from dormant accounts and add to their profits. However, the 2010 report highlighted, for the 2009/10 financial year the Tote had unclaimed dividends for pool betting of £944k. This is only a small example of what monies could be lying unclaimed in betting accounts.

Since the publication of the report, it appears little has been done to progress the matter and the UK Government have failed to take action to legislate on dormant betting accounts and show they are serious on tackling problem gambling.

Therefore, before the Easter recess I had the opportunity to quiz the Prime Minister at the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time on the issue of dormant betting accounts. I highlighted to him that, according to the House of Commons Library, there is an estimated 280,000 problem gamblers in the UK. I was somewhat encouraged to learn the Prime Minister will be discussing the matter with the Secretary of State for Culture and I have since written to the Prime Minister to hold him to account for what was said at PMQ’s.

Alongside my question, I have undertaken a number of meetings with people from the gambling industry and those trying to support problem gamblers. My aim is to learn more about the issues and to see what can be done to support those individuals and families whose lives have been wrecked by gambling. I had the opportunity to meet with both the Chair and Chief Executive of Senet Group, an independent body set up to promote responsible gambling standards and ensure that the marketing of gambling is socially responsible. Added to this, I met with Responsible Gambling Trust and The Seeds of Change UK to discuss gambling and dormant betting accounts. The Responsible Gambling Trust highlighted they raised £6.5million in 2014/15 and expects to exceed £7million in 2015/16 from voluntary contributions from the betting industry. This funding will be utilised to support those with gambling related harm.

I believe there is also a responsibility for the Government to contribute necessary funding for research, education and treatment into gambling related harm. Therefore, I took the opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Culture during question time in the Chamber. Unfortunately, the response I received did not give specific figures as to how much the Government provides to support those affected by gambling related harm. I will be writing to the Secretary of State to press the matter further.

The issue of gambling addiction and related harm is too important an issue to pay lip service too. I will continue to strongly urge the Government to claim the money from dormant betting accounts, much like they do with dormant bank accounts. I believe this money should be utilised to support problem gamblers and raise awareness of the issues involved.

Ronnie Cowan MP
Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

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Love/hate relationship with the media

Most politicians have a love hate relationship with the media. We need the good publicity to help get us re-elected and we need to get our message out so people understand our position and can engage with us. But in courting the media there is always the danger we say something out of turn or something is taken out of context. And once any media outlet has been kind enough to carry good stories it’s very hard to take umbrage if they carry a not so good story. So we dance around each other in what is neither courtship nor war dance. It’s a bit like pilot fish following a shark in a mutually beneficial relationship. It starts off as the media being the shark but as the politician becomes bigger and more powerful then somewhere the relationship changes and one morphs into the other.

At Westminster 150 people have media passes. This allows them access to the estate and into many areas, mixing freely with elected members and member’s staff. Some elected members have a very friendly relationship and meet up socially on a regular basis with journalists and broadcasters. All the big media outlets lobby parliament on a regular basis. This is an opportunity for them to talk and for us to listen. It’s really up to each one of us as individuals to decide how much we engage with the media. I am, to be honest, maybe still too reticent. After years of expressing my political opinions to friends and family and them paying little or no attention, I am still adjusting to journalists taking an interest, writing it down and then seeing it in print. That takes a bit of getting used to.

I enjoy radio. It’s a medium I feel comfortable with and I have to thank David Faller and Willie Stewart of Inverclyde Radio who graciously allowed me air time during the referendum campaign and then again during my own Westminster campaign. I learned a tremendous amount in those first interviews. I don’t have a poker face so radio is ideal for me. I can squint and furrow my brow, shake my head and look skyward, adjust my spectacles and lick my lips without looking like a mime artist with an itch. I always fancied being the early morning disc jockey, playing tunes in the wee small hours of the morning, broadcasting to shift workers and the early birds. A bit like Clint Eastwood in the movie ‘Play Misty for Me’ but without the stalker.

Of course these days we also have social media and that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Instead of one journalist picking apart what I say there are thousands of folk, mostly strangers willing to take on that role. Social media brings with it a range of opportunities and potential pitfalls. Having a conversation in 140 characters is no way to converse with constituents and tracking conversations on multiple Facebook threads is inefficient and time consuming. Social media for me is primarily a way of highlighting events and opportunities, while keeping people informed of current issues and the business of the day.

We now have more media platforms than we have ever had before and as a result we have more bloggers and posters than you can shake a stick at. Used badly we are exposed to bullies and bores. Used wisely we can all communicate and exchange views, gain a better understanding and be more collaborative.

The above article will appear in June/July edition of Clyde Life Magazine.