Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-220)
COUNCILLOR CAROLINE SEYMOUR, COUNCILLOR ROBERT PARKER, COUNCILLOR TONY PHILLIPS OBE, COUNCILLOR JONATHAN PETHEN AND MR JOHN TIFFNEY MBE
TUESDAY 25 JUNE 2002
200. Some of your evidence suggests that you view these very positively as benefiting local communities. Could you expand on that?
(Mr Parker) I think it is fair to say that local government has a long track record of delivery whatever the national government wants, usually at short notice and usually without all the resources necessary. Lots of people have said the local government can deliver and it has a long record of doing it. In terms of the question in relation to casinos and licensing in general and some of the other consequences, I think the point you were making about adequate resources is necessary to deal with some of the social consequences because I do not think extra resources are going to be needed for the licensing aspect. As we heard from Camelot and the discussions that we have had, there will be some social consequences. These consequences in terms of debt will translate into the sort of things that local government, again, gets involved in. Housing rent arrears, for example, potential evictions, problems with social services. I think that this question of adequate resourcing is not just in relation to licensing, but is also in relation to some of the social consequences. For example, legal aid: under the Lord Chancellor's Department there are issues there about debt and debt work solicitors, private practice solicitors and voluntary organisations are funded through the legal aid board and through local government. One cannot help but think there will be financial consequences the local government needs to be adequately resourced to deal with.
201. We visited Aberdeen recently and the Committee there were concerned about resources. Have you had discussions with COSLA? It is a different regime, but have you a joint view on this?
(Mrs Seymour) I do not believe as yet that we have actually talked to COSLA but we would, of course, naturally expect to talk to COSLA once the legislation and our duties were known. Certainly we have a regulatory organisation called LACORS of which COSLA is a participant. Certainly I think we would use that organisation to be able to liaise and look at best practice, look at the difficulties they have had in Scotland and learn from that and set up a robust system in England and Wales
Ms McKenna: I do agree with you that local government has always managed to adapt to whatever the national government throws at them and I wish you well on this.
202. I spent five years as a councillor in Hackney so I am not entirely sure that local government has always managed to deliver exactly what local government expected or anticipated. But I just wonder about the process of changeif there is to be a change in the legislation and who ends up doing the licensing of gamblingof resources from the magistracy to councils because I suspect that what might happen is that you might make a bid for more money and resources and the magistracy will not make a bid for having less money and the Treasury will be sat in the middle and you will probably not get your money but the magistracy will stay with the resources. But it seems to be that this is vitally important because our experience up in Aberdeen was that there were some very close narrow legal issues being debated in the meeting that we saw which, in my experience, having been through quite a lot of planning issues where councillors do have a quasi judicial role, I have never had solicitors appearing before me as a councillor whereas I suspect with this one will in significant numbers. How can we make sure that this process of transition happens smoothly?
(Mr Pethen) Perhaps I could pick up on that. Certainly in terms of solicitors appearing before councillors that happens quite regularly in terms of public performance licencing. It is not an unusual experience. I would imagine this would simply be an extension of that because no doubt the sort of bodies that would want gambling premises will choose to use solicitors to present their cases. In terms of the resources you talked about, I think it is for central government to recognise the fact that there is this transfer of responsibilities and to ensure that the money perhaps follows those responsibilities. Certainly the White Paper talks in terms of perhaps a judiciary not being the ideal place for renewal of licences to take place, that it should be perhaps more aimed at the criminal control rather than the licensing of legitimate activities.
203. On a different matter, these AWP's (Amusements With Prizes which sounds like Pets Win Prizes, but anyway) as far as I can see it now, the original situation was that Budd wanted these taken away from public places where there might be children, and so on. Thanks to a lot of lobbying, in particular I think from members here, about the role of working clubs, that working clubs would be allowed to retain them, but it is somewhat uncertain exactly what happens to fish and chip shops and things like that. Do you feel confident with the recommendations as they are laid out now?
(Mrs Seymour) I think it gives the local authorities quite an element of discretion about whether they are going to allow those machines in unlicenced premises. I think that is right and I think local government would use it responsibly to make sure they were only in places that they saw were suitable places. I think it might sometimes lead to difficult decisions, but that is what local government is all about, is it not? Local decisions?
204. Where do you think is a suitable place?
(Mr Parker) One example would be a motorway service station.
205. Is or is not?
(Mr Parker) Is a suitable place.
206. One of the things we heard from the police again in Aberdeen is that they were clearly saying that one of the problems with fish and chip shops, for instance, having AWP's is that you get a congregation of ladsmostlyon a Friday and Saturday night and this becomes the source of local nuisance and disturbance and problems.
(Mrs Seymour) You can see that happening quite easily and I think it would be up to local councils to decide on a local basis exactly where they want it to happen. It may be that they would like to see other areas used where they were trying to encourage youths to go so that they were not necessarily in the main thoroughfare of the town or village. I think it is quite right that we have a lot of local discussion.
(Mr Phillips) Can I go back to that because I think the local authority involvement in it also is local. In other words, local members, officers with local knowledge. I think that is one of the things that perhaps local authorities have to contribute because through elected members you are soon going to find out whether it is the right place to put it by lobbying from people locally. I think that is why local authorities have a role to play within that. Obviously, in our local authority we have very close liaison with certain parties, such as the police, and we would certainly take into consideration any views expressed by the constabulary.
207. I broadly support what you are saying. It seems to me that people's ability locally to go through their elected representatives to ensure that an issue of this kind is dealt with suitably is the foundation of democracy. But I have a slight worry because, for instance in my own patch the magistrates' court is actually closer to the Rhondda than the local authority which covers a much wider area.
(Mr Phillips) You have given me a marvellous opportunity because bear in mind that my magistrates' courts have all been closed in my area and people are going to have to drive or go thirty miles to get to court. Therefore I think the argument of the magistrates' courts being very beneficial, I want to get on with that subject because it is burning money in my particular area, but that is where again our local authority will be able to take on a role without a magistrates' court actually being there in future, whatever the merits of that may be.
208. Just one other issue, one of the things that was raised by various people who have talked to us about resort casinos is that many people have pointed out that this is only really likely to succeed in a dramatic way where the local community can feel that there is a significant benefit. In the States, of course, there is a financial benefit directly to the local authority. The Committee has heard from various people that it is going to be difficult to achieve that. But I just wondered whether it might be possible, for instance, to create a special business rate classification for resort casinos?
(Mrs Seymour) I do not think we would be opposed to looking at a proposal that would benefit the local community because I think that often when things you know are perhaps going to be a bit of a nuisance, if you can get some local benefit out of it then people are often very pleased to be able to support it. I think we would need to look at whatever was put forward and look at the allocations of any monies and perhaps whether there would be restrictions on the way the money was going to be spent and so on.
(Mr Parker) One point is the question of the social responsibility fund which essentially is about recognising that from the profits that are made by the gambling industry there goes responsibility and a percentage of profits could be actually levied for distribution in local areas to deal with some of the consequences of the production of the profit. I cannot help but feel that then there would be some local recognition of the fact that the gambling industry which, in a sense, can sometimes be seen negatively and pejoratively, is actually discharging its responsibilities to the local community and that means therefore a social responsibility fund if it was managed locallyit could be managed nationally of coursewould be at least a visible demonstration of the fact that there was a responsible gambling industry which was meeting some of the problems that exist as a direct reflection of the profit that it was producing.
(Mr Phillips) Could I also add to that as well because bear in mind that the idea of a business rate locallytake Blackpoolsounds very nice and Blackpool would benefit. But the benefits of that will also have to spill out to other authorities where the people are coming from to go to Blackpool to bet. I would not like to create the impression that business rate levied in Blackpool would in actual fact just give the benefits to the whole thing. People coming to casinos et cetera who, shall we say, are socially deprived for want of a better description, create the problem, those problems are taken back to other authorities which will not have been levying a business rate which would benefit their authorities being able to spend the money. My colleague's comments on the social fund I think want approaching with a little bit of caution because I do not believe it is necessarily a panacea with the casino towns. Brighton might be another one. How many people from West Sussex or East Sussex might be going to a casino in Brighton take back problems financially and their authorities have got to pick the element of it up. I would be a little bit cautious, I think, in the idea of a business rate.
209. Instead of asking direct questions, I wonder if it would be all right if I asked each member of the panel to let us know how they see it likely to happen in their own areas. We have such a wealth of experience in local government and geographical spread as well.
(Mrs Seymour) You want me to say what?
210. What effect will the relaxation of the government have, both good and bad, in each of the areas. It is good chance for us to learn.
Chairman: We have never given any other witnesses ever this opportunity.
Alan Keen: If you were MP's we would be here until tomorrow teatime.
(Ms Seymour) The positive things I think in my area are that I can see that it will help to regenerate places like Scarboroughonce very noble tourist placeswhich could possibly have casinos, not necessarily on a very large scale and I think that would be a real positive benefit for Scarborough. Places like Harrogate where there are a lot of conferences. There is a big debate going on in Harrogate as to whether they might have casinos or not. Again, I think that would probably have a positive effect on the local economy. I think even some of the smaller hotels might actually like to have casinos which, again, may bring more business into North Yorkshire. In our rural economy we are all about bringing in small numbers of extra visitors to spend money locally. I think that there will be a lot of benefits scattered across the community as well as centred in the larger places. The negative effects are that, yes, you are always a bit worried about whether you are going to end up with a lot of problem gamblers, but hopefully you will not. Hopefully if we have a social responsibility fund or some sort of trust or whateveras Camelot were talking aboutthen I think that as long as people recognise the problems and there is money there to deal with it, hopefully it will not be an enormous problem. I think broadly I would welcome the idea.
(Mr Parker) I am from Lincolnshire and there is a similarity with North Yorkshire. Certainly I think that the east coastSkegnesscould respond positively, not on the same scale as Blackpool but I think it could be part of an economic regeneration for the coastal resorts. I think it could confirm Lincoln's status as a sub-regional centre. In certain sizes of towns or cities you would expect certain things to be there and we could probably say now with a population of say 100,000 we would expect there to be at least one place where one could have a casino. At the moment in the whole of Lincolnshire there is no casino there at all. I think those hotels that see themselves as potential conference centres would respond positively. I do not think there would be very much change in the rest of what is essentially a rural area. I think in terms of the potential downside there could well be some new people coming into gambling, but I think the main issue would be those people who currently go out of Lincolnshire to gamble who would be staying in Lincolnshire. There could be a greater number of them and I think we would need to recognise that any liberalisation will have some effects. We need to be prepared for those effects through adequate funding of advice agencies and help and, of course, prevention, which is one of the responsibilities that local authoritiesthrough education serviceshave got to make it clear (just like we do at the moment with addictions in relation to drugs and alcohol and tobacco) that we have to do exactly the same thing in relation to gambling. Not treat it as something that is definitely evil, but something that has the potential to cause problems. I think that through the education system in Lincolnshire that is what we would be looking to do.
(Mr Phillips) I represent a district within Wiltshire, but I have served my life on local authorities throughout the south-west. Also in local government I have been involved regionally quite a bit. I think the problem in the south-west is perhaps different to the other regions, as it is with regional government. We only have a few large towns which we would see probably with casinos: in Torbay, in Bristol, in Plymouth, places like that would be the centres where any casinos would set up, we think. Because the south-west is geographically 300 miles from one end to the other (if you turn it round the other way it can get to Glasgow) our problems are slightly different because you have a very large rural population and in the very south-westin Cornwall and parts of Devonare deprived areas which the EEC gives more money to. I think the impact in the south-west will not be as great as it would in some other parts of the country. I think the downside of the thing is that unfortunately, like other parts of the country, crime is on the increase and in one or two towns which shall be nameless we do have a major problem now. Whether it would add to that problem I do not think anyone can actually forecast, but I have an idea that it may well do because of the elements that may come along with it. In terms of tourism in the south-west, which is the major tourist industry, it is a very big industry, and therefore it may be that gaming may attract more tourism, but I would not like to forecast that and say it will. But it is a very large industry and very important to the whole of that region. That is another aspect we have to think rather carefully about. Also, the division of responsibilities between the Gaming Board and local authorities would be something that I would like to see spelled out; I think it is very important. At the present moment, to give you an example, we, in my authority, have a scheme for licensing doormen. It works very successfully. The police are very pleased with it. Licensing of doormen, I believe, is likely to be transferred as a function to the Gaming Board1. If that is the case then the local authority schemes will disappear. It may be good, it may be bad, but I think going back to your comments, the local knowledge is something which is rather important and local control, and it is working extremely well. I think local authorities in my area would be very disappointed if those schemes were scrapped to be part of a national scheme. I hope you find those answers helpful.
(Mr Pethen) My local authority is Poole in Dorset which not only is a port but is a holiday resort and boasts some of the best beaches on the south coast. I hope that some of you will be visiting this year. We see the possibility of a casino being able to be based there as being a very positive thing in terms of giving an all year round attraction, one that we perhaps lack to some regard. Our near neighbour Bournemouthand our great rivalshave a number of casinos already. But with the regulations that go with the current gaming laws, they do not really form an attraction so much in their own right and I think we feel that the deregulation that would come with the proposals might actually mean that future developments that might happen in the area would actually provide a tourist attraction in their own right. Clearly, as my colleagues have said, there are potentially problems that go with this in terms of problem gambling. We address that primarily through the Citizens Advice Bureau which we fund to quite a large extent within Poole. I would hope that if there were additional incomes arising out of gaming activities we would be able to increase the funding towards that and other similar bodies to address those difficulties directly.
211. Mr Tiffney, have you anything you would like to add?
(Mr Tiffney) Thank you, Chairman. Not really. I think our members have expressed the view of the Association very well and I have nothing to add. I think we welcome the proposals and are prepared for the challenge.
Chairman: Thank you for that innovation, Alan. We might try it again if we have witnesses who are so succinct.
Alan Keen: I think we should compliment the local authority elected members. We would not have dared do that with members of Parliament. We would be going for days. It is clear coming from what you have said and one of the discussions we have had in the past few weeks that really the casinos should be restricted to a couple of main resorts and you would disagree with that, obviously, from what you have said and you have convinced me, I have to say, as well. Thank you very, very much indeed.
212. May I say that much of what I wanted to ask you have already answered. But I would like, very briefly, to return to the question of licensing because I think that is one of the fundamental issues that you will be confronting. May I preface my remarks by saying that I actually do agree that it should go to local authority and instinctively the more local and democratic control there is, the better. However, as I gave the Business in Sport and Leisure representative a rough time for putting the opposite view, I thought I ought to be at least fair and try and play devil's advocate. It seems to me first of all that we are more likelyI may be completely wrong and it is just me guessingin the next Queen's Speech to see legislation on liquor licensing than we are on gambling, so that the order is going to be liquor first. I shall declare that I have held a licence in a number of areas in England and own a licenced premises in Scotland, so I have some experience of the fact that actually justices' courts vary enormously according to areas and therefore I do not accept particularly your argument that there is going to be a change there. I expect their aim is to continue when it is transferred to local authorities and I do not think it is a particularly bad thing. Having said that, BISL argued heavily for some form of national regulation with the minimum going to local authorities in order that there would be a level playing field throughout the country. But I have heard from you, I thinkwhich coincides with my own viewthat actually variation is a perfectly good thing and that some authorities wish not to have things, others wish to have them. I think Councillor Seymour used the word "discretion" and I think it is absolutely appropriate. How do you respond to the industry which says that it is not going to be a level playing field and that more should be centrally based and really you should simply be confined to administering that bit of the law?
(Mrs Seymour) I thinkand it is in the White Paperthat the Gambling Commission should actually bring forward quite tough regulations and if the regulations are very clear then I do not think there will be great difficulty administering it and probably the local variations will not be very great. I think you are more likely to get the local regulations coming in for, for example, liquor licensing and other things before we even get to that position, for example the planning application and so on, where you get local interest coming forward. I think that if the Gambling Commission does its job and sets out very clearly what its proposals are, I do not think there will be an enormous problem with it because I think it is going to relate, for example, to the size of floor area and perhaps noise regulations and so on will come into it (hopefully). There again, local authorities can put it in with the planning application. I do not think it would be a big problem, but I do think that the relationship that we have with the Gambling Commission is going to be very important. I am sure there will be people who complain about the licensing system that is already run by local authorities, but I never hear a great many complaints about the present licences that we issue for a variety of premises. I think we can do a good job if we are given clear guidance.
(Mr Phillips) Could I add to that as well that we have already discussed within our own internal committee the question that LACORSas it is called now, it sounds a French organisationwho will be drawing up guidelines for officers in order to get some form of level playing field once we know what element of the thing will be directly dealt with by the Gaming Commission. The other aspect of it is this, that there must be some form of difference between a purely rural area and an area that has, as somebody has said, a casino. I think there will be a little bit of variation within that. The LA are very keen to lay down guidelines for local authorities that will give us as level playing field as is possible in the actual administration of running the elements that we end up by doing in local government. I do not know whether that is an assurance; it is probably another politician's promise, as they say.
213. Are you referring to yourself or to me?
(Mr Phillips) Neither of us, actually.
214. When the British Casino Association appeared before us they spoke of a gradual roll out of casinos. Yet as each of you went through your various areas, I got the impression that you would all have one pretty soon and that is rather going to conflict with what business leaders in that industry are saying. I would be interested in what you might think about that because I think your dreams are getting ahead of the reality. Secondly, Councillor Phillips, I am the only south-west MP on this Committee and a number of us in the south-west are aware that Wiltshire does not always think of itself as south-west and, in fact, neither does Dorset think of itself as south-west (sometimes it is quite keen to be along with the south coast), so those of us who are purely south-west in Somerseta number of people in Taunton, which is a town of only 50,000, somewhat smaller than Torbay, Bristol, Plymouthare promoting the idea of casinos as a good way of perhaps attracting a lot of world«class musicians to the area. I think that is a little bit fanciful for the simple reason that we do already have world-class musicians who go to the Castle Hotel three times a year (courtesy of Kit Chapman, that is one of the best hotels) for no benefit because there is not going to be local taxation (we have effectively been told that). How are you going to attract these people and do it as quickly as you seem to be saying that each of you were going to get casinos.
(Mrs Seymour) I think actually we are perhaps talking about different things. The industry, I think, are talking about the big sort of Las Vegas type premises. They have visions of massive investmentmany millions of pounds investmentand attracting very large entertainers at vast cost and bringing people in. I think that what we were talking about certainly in some of the smaller places would be just small casinos that were perhaps more for local people and small numbers of visitors. I think perhaps we are talking about different things. They, as I say, have these visions of investing many millions of pounds whereas I am sure the things we are thinking of would not require that sort of investment.
215. I think that rather conflicts with their business; the way they do business and their business plans and who they attract. It is a classic 80/20 rule again; in fact it is more like 90/10, 10 per cent of the high rollers produce 90 per cent of their real turnover. So it is how you attract them. Would they go to Scarborough or Harrogate? I am pretty sure they are more likely to go to Harrogate than Scarborough, or want to go to Harrogate rather than Scarborough, unless you spend an awful lot of money in Scarborough. You have to front-end load it which is really where Blackpool is coming from, but we have our own thoughts on that one.
(Mrs Seymour) Places like Scarborough and I am sure some of the other smaller towns already have entertainment. They do already attract visitors. They have theatres which attract the summer visitors and so on. They could extend that in a small way. It does not always have to be on such a grand scale. I think that is the thing.
216. The reason I said it is that my worry for you is not that you are going to get rather super plush wall-papered casinos, but you are going to get large sheds with huge numbers of machines clanking away throughout the night, rather than what you see as people coming along and handing over a gold credit card and taking out two hundred quid and losing it. There are going to be people who are going to be taking a 20 or 30 quid note, getting on the train after four or five pints of lager, chucking coins into a machine. That may not be what Harrogate wants, but it might be what Scarborough needs. I do not know.
(Mr Parker) There are two potential suppliers that have not been mentioned. One is the big hotel chains that can easily convert a particular part of an areathe Marriott Hotel, the Forte Hotel chainsand secondly, at least in my part of the world, most of the hotels and new businesses are not part of national chains, they are individual people that have built a hotel because that is how they are going to earn money. I just wonder whether the British Casino Association is necessarily speaking on behalf of new people that may actually want to build a hotel with a casino as a result of the liberalisation of these regulations. That is new money out there.
217. As far as I can ascertain the only new people who would come in would be largely American or European and their minimum size of operation will be far more than 200 bed hotels. So you are going to have to find places to put them. Is there anywhere in Harrogate?
(Mrs Seymour) I am sure there is.
(Mr Phillips) Can I come back on one point, that is that I think in the south-west we do not envisage a tremendous rash of casinos all over the place. I come from a county that I can boast in the south-west is the only one that does not have a navy. The rest have got coastline. My experience throughout the south-west within the tourist industryI chaired the Economic Development Sub-Committee of the Tourist Board for a number of yearsis that you find that Torquay, Bristol, places like that are places where I think those sort of ventures may come but I cannot personally see a great rash of casinos spreading all over the place and I think the Bingo system is one which perhaps gives a more rational approach to this. Bingo halls come and go, but at the same time they are not large establishments. They are quite plush in their way, they are an ex-cinemas mainly. I cannot envisage that in the south-west if I created the impression that we should suddenly have a whole rash of very plush casinos in Plymouth, Taunton, Poole, Bournemouth, all those sort of places, I do not think that is likely to come about.
218. My concern for your areas is that you will be keen to get casinos and will end up with something you did not think you were going to get.
(Mrs Seymour) We already have places that have machines. I know they might be slightly different
219. We are talking much bigger than you probably envisage.
(Mrs Seymour) But that is where the planning system and so on comes in, to look at the issues about whether it is a suitable place to put those sort of entertainments.
220. And long may the local authorities be able to keep such local decisions.
(Mrs Seymour) Indeed.
(Mr Pethen) Can I suggest why we are so keen to work in advance with the proposed Gambling Commission is to establish rules and guidelines for licensing which enable us not to have the sheds of this worlds and to have something which fits in better with the vision that local authorities do have.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Very useful and helpful. Very much appreciated.
8 1 Correction by witness: the Security Industry Authority will have this responsibility. Back