Betting shops for tourists?

Cllr Jonathan Garston, Conservative member for Milton and Portfolio holder for Planning, asserted at last night’s Place Scrutiny Committee that the reason that Southend-on-Sea has a higher concentration of betting shops than other local authorities in Essex because it is a tourist destination. He described comparing Southend-on-Sea with the rest of Essex as “unfair”.

Cllr Garston’s claim that betting shops are a magnet for day trippers and visitors stretches credibility. Whilst some visitors may pop into a bookies, this will not be their reason for coming to the town.

Jonathan further stated that the comparison should be like for like; Southend-on-Sea should be compared with Blackpool and Brighton. I do not agree that my original set of figures was ‘unfair’ (as an Essex activist I like to know the data for my county, and see how different places compare) – aren’t Clacton, Maldon, Brightlingsea, Harwich etc. equally resort-towns?

Anyway, here is the data for non-Essex seaside places:

authority Number of people per betting shop licence
(people over 15 years of age)
Ranking all local authorities on a scale of deprivation
(where 1 is most deprived and 4 is least deprived)
this borough is in band
Blackpool 2747 1
Sefton 3281 2
Sunderland 3721 1
Southend-on-Sea 3758 2
Copeland 3960 2
South Tyneside 3997 1
Bournemouth 4364 2
North Tyneside 4413 2
Brighton and Hove 5030 2
Great Yarmouth 5081 1
Scarborough 5453 2
Waveney 5694 2
Eastbourne 5979 2
Thanet 6122 1
Weymouth and Portland 6133 2
Hastings 6773 1
Plymouth 7657 2
Isle of Wight 7813 3
Cornwall 11223 2
Wirral 17640 2

Southend-on-Sea still rides very high, highest in southern and eastern England. Southend-on-Sea is only bettered (which is probably the reverse of the word I should be using) by two places in the north-west and one in the north-east.

Like-for-like, Southend-on-Sea manages a far higher density of betting shops than Bournemouth, Brighton, Margate (Thanet) and Hastings.

What excuse will Cllr Jonathan Garston now trot out?

More betting shops per capita in Southend than anywhere else in Essex

There is some interesting information on gambling in The Guardian (Gambling map of England). I have extracted some data for Essex. This shows that my borough of Southend-on-Sea is the most saturated in terms of betting shops.

authority Number of people per betting shop licence (people over 15
years of age)
Ranking all local authorities on a scale of deprivation (where 1 is most deprived and 4 is least deprived) this borough is
in band
Southend-on-Sea 3758 2
Harlow 5492 2
Brentwood 5555 4
Epping Forest 5739 3
Basildon 6157 3
Castle Point 6167 3
Thurrock 6605 3
Braintree 7059 4
Rochford 7689 4
Colchester 7961 3
Tendring 8364 2
Chelmsford 9943 4
Uttlesford 12920 4
Maldon 17200 4

I feel somewhat justified in my campaigning on gambling. I have never been one for banning, but I do worry about the spread of betting shops, especially as I represent a ward with two high streets.

The deprivation ranking is also noteworthy.

Heart, crowded, bypass, coaches – a quick round-up

Holly Knebel of Heart FM and Cllr Julian Ware-Lane

Holly Knebel of Heart FM and Cllr Julian Ware-Lane

My campaign to deal with the problems associated with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals took another step forward yesterday. I was interviewed by Holly Knebel of Heart FM, an extract of which was broadcast in all of this morning’s news bulletins [http://www.heart.co.uk/essex/news/local/southend-gambling-problems/]. In different circumstances I would have been humbled and delighted to share the headlines with Tony Benn. Southend-on-Sea’s ruling Cabinet will discuss my motion on Tuesday (18th).

At the weekend I attended the East of England Labour Party Regional Board. Amongst the items (which included a presentation from John Denham MP) was the news (to me, anyway) that the UK has the highest density of people per floor space in Europe. No wonder we are all feeling a bit crowded. We need more, and bigger, homes built.

I see that requests for a bypass in the east of the borough are rearing their heads again. Whilst I can appreciate that being stuck in traffic is no fun (I often experience this on my daily A127 commutes), if I were living in Shoeburyness or Thorpe Bay I would be careful what I wish for. Once a good road goes in and access becomes a lot easier, then the place becomes a magnet for developers. Also, in-fill development becomes more likely, meaning the death knell for the fields to the north of the eastern end of town. This will create traffic, and before long all the gains that a bypass delivered will be cancelled out.

I am a little frustrated. I have just (officially) found out that the coaches that use the Seaway Car Park at the moment will, if the administration (there is a game of pass the buck as regards to who authorised this going on as I write) gets his way, once that car park is built on, start using the Warrior Square car park. The car parking spaces that will be lost will be taken up by the car park on the site of the former Queensway House (thus proving that the supposed revenue gain there was a fiction). I am unimpressed by the idea of a coach park so close to the residents of Warrior Square and Whitegate Road. I do not like the idea of the Seaway Car Park being built on, but if it is to go ahead then the coaches must be found a suitable new home. I am unconvinced that Warrior Square can be described as suitable.

Are you Jonathan Garston? and other themes

I do not attempt to record every action undertaken for residents in this blog, It would be plainly ridiculous. Important as each individual thing is, a long list of pot holes reported, broken streetlights fixed, etc would not be much of a read (some might argue that this blog is not much of a read anyway). Sometimes, though, I think it is interesting to report on some of my conversations.

So, in no particular order, here follows a selection from my recent chats in and about in Milton ward.

“Are you Jonathan Garston?” asked one resident. I had to disappoint this particular lady. I am not sure how we could be confused – I am some twenty years older, fat, and grey (almost white) haired. “No, I’m the Labour councillor” was my reply.

One resident had mould in their living room. They’ve had it for four years. Four years! A partially collapsed kitchen ceiling added to their woes. Litter and dog waste are still a feature of doorstep conversations. I managed recently to persuade a reluctant council official to give me a dog bin in Leonard Road (Westcliff-on-Sea). It is not there yet, but it has been promised. Untidy front gardens and the wish for wheelie bins, bad pavements (again, and again, and again), overdevelopment, wasteful spending by the council, and potholes. On that issue I could at least claim to have asked for Canewdon Road to be re-surfaced; I will keep my fingers crossed for that one.

Overgrown bushes, lack of streetlighting, more bad pavements, and more worries about over-development. Pity that the portfolio holder for Planning wasn’t in Milton ….. oh, hang on ……

I have had a couple of conversations recently about CRB checks, in particular the fact that nothing ever gets dropped from them. I am not sure what the new DBS checks bring, but these checks were introduced because of fears for the protection of children. Yet, these checks can create problems for people who have committed offences some years ago. A spotless record for more than two decades does not remove old offences, and can therefore cause problems and embarrassment. I remember when CRB checks came in because all football referees had to have them. A number of referees quit because of this, and not because they had suspect pasts, but because they felt this was an unnecessarily intrusive.

No-one mentioned the Cliffs Museum, the old Central Library, or the Shoebury flood defences. No-one mentioned the Cabinet system either.

One or two claimed they did not understand politics and so they did not vote. Some were unsure what they would do in May, except that they would not be voting Labour; fortunately they were outnumbered by those who were definitely “not Tory”.

The Southend Echo apologises

Page 18 of today's newspaper

Page 18 of today’s newspaper

FOBT motion

Here is the motion I put to Full Council last Thursday:

This council notes:

1. The prevalence of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops, often referred to in the media as “the crack cocaine of gambling”.

2. That, unlike fruit machines in pubs, bingo halls and amusement arcades where cash stakes are limited to £2, gamblers can bet with cash or via a debit card up to £100 every 20 seconds on FOBTs, more than four times as fast as the rate of play in casinos.

3. That in 2012, over £1.5bn was lost on FOBTs across the UK. More profit was made from FOBTs than from the National Lottery, when according to the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey, 56% of the population play the Lottery, but just 4% play FOBTs.

4. Empirical evidence that suggests FOBTs are the most addictive form of gambling.

5. Research carried out by Geofutures, which found there to be four times as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment than in areas of low unemployment.

6. Research carried out by 2CV in Newham, which found that the average bet per spin on FOBTs is £17, and the average amount of cash inserted into the machine is £55 per session, with one in five putting in over £100 a time.

7. Nationally, more than 80% of turnover in betting shops and more than half of profits are derived from FOBTs. Less than 20% of stakes in betting shops are over the counter.

8. A recent economic analysis undertaken by Landman Economics, commissioned by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which assessed the impact of FOBTs on local economies and across the wider economy. The report concluded that every £1bn spent on FOBTs produces a net reduction of 13,000 jobs, compared to if spent in the wider consumer economy. The projected doubling of revenue from FOBTs by 2023 could cost a further 23,000 jobs across the economy.

9. Concern that the Government has not addressed the issues caused by FOBTs, and the announcement made by Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, on 10th October 2013 in response to the Triennial Review of gaming machine stakes and prizes, where the stakes on FOBTs were unchanged.

10. The position in the Republic of Ireland where the Government has introduced legislation to outlaw FOBTs in betting shops.

This council believes that the increase in FOBTs is causing significant problems and believes that the Government should either use the existing legislative framework, or introduce legislation to outlaw B2 casino games in betting shops.

At the very least, local authorities should be given the powers to protect the local amenity and wellbeing of communities by (1) stopping the proliferation of betting shops and (2) reducing the maximum stakes and slowing down the speed of play.

This council therefore requests:

1. The Chief Executive writes to the Secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport to outline the terms of this motion and demand urgent action against FOBTs by the Government.

2. The use of the Sustainable Communities Act as a means to reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 per spin is explored.

This was seconded by Cllr Anne Jones (Labour, Kursaal) and will be discussed at Cabinet.

Misrepresented by the Southend Echo

EchoWRONGI think I have a good relationship with the local print media, and I try to cooperate as much as I can. On the whole I find their reporting even-handed. Sometimes they get it wrong.

Yesterday’s Echo carried a very misleading article about me. Worst of all I am heavily quoted without my being consulted. When this normally happens I am pretty relaxed about it; when I am wholly misrepresented I get become thoroughly crosspatch.

My words are taken from a letter that I wrote to the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner (http://warelane.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/my-letter-to-nick-alston-essex-pcc/).

Yesterday’s Echo puts this under the heading ‘Should you give cash to beggars?’ Read my letter and you will find not one reference to either cash or beggars.

I actually got a very good response from the Essex PCC (http://warelane.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/i-wanted-a-response-i-got-a-response-reassurances-about-policing-the-homeless/) – no cash or beggars in Nick’s reply either.

This misrepresentation is important because I get a lot of complaints about beggars in my ward, a ward that, because of its two high streets, attracts beggars. I make promises which the headline here makes look hypocritical.

Let me be clear: whilst I would not judge anyone who chooses to give cash to beggars I have never advocated it or given cash myself. When I am told about nuisance begging I always go to the Police, who provide an excellent service in dealing with it.

Those who beg need help – my advice is to give to the charities that help and support them. If you must give something to the beggars buy them a hot drink or a sandwich.

Notwithstanding this, I am trying to be a friend to the homeless and needy and stand by everything I have written in my blog about them.

I am very disappointed with the Southend Echo, and hope that they carry a correction piece soon.

On the doorstep in Westborough

You do meet Conservatives on the doorstep in Westborough, occasionally, still determined to vote blue come what may. More often you will meet Conservatives supporters who are unsure whether to stick with the blues, to vote elsewhere, or to sit on their hands. Whilst it matters little in Westborough, it does illustrate the Tory conundrum. The Tory Westborough campaign is going to be a token effort at best, even in a good year they cannot really hope for a Westborough victory. But, what you see on the doorstep in Westborough is repeated in doorsteps across the borough.

I do not believe that every wavering Tory supporter is on the brink of switching to UKIP, but clearly there are a number who will. I actually think that most will choose abstention. Parties in Government usually see their supporters switch off in large numbers, and what we are seeing today in Westborough is this, in part at least. I also sense something else though. There is disillusionment amongst their supporters, and this comes, in my experience, from their view that Cameron is weak and subject to sudden and frequent policy changes. As one lifelong Westborough Tory admitted to me: “I really am not sure what I will do in May. I have always voted, you can’t complain if you don’t. But Cameron is all over the place. He is not a strong leader.” (This is not verbatim, but certainly conveys the gist of our conversation.) I suggested that they might consider Labour – I got an unconvincing ‘maybe’ in reply.

You also meet Liberal Democrats, in greater numbers than are found in Milton ward. There is a small but significant loyal band. I have not found enough to make me (as Labour’s campaign coordinator across the borough) panic, but I think they will do better than the 5.4% they got in Westborough last time (2012). I am not sure whether they will improve on the fifth place they got in 2012 – this will depend on who else is standing. Now that there are two slots to be voted for the minor places are quite unpredictable. It will be interesting to see how much effort the local Liberal Democrats expend here as they will also be fire-fighting in three other wards. They will do well to hold St Laurence, Blenheim Park and Prittlewell, and this May will be a test of their local organising capability.

Voters still loyal after four years of coalition are unlikely to switch at this late date, not in Westborough anyway where the Lib Dem support has already evaporated. Those that I spoke to were certainly not minded to shift, but it was still worthwhile to point out just how much ground they have to make up here.

I met someone who was forming his own party. I asked that they email me details, and I will write something as and when that happens. I met many who did not realise just how close things were last time in the ward (38 votes separated the Independent from second-placed Labour), although quite a few were aware of just how volatile this ward can be.

News of Cllr Martin Terry’s dash for Thorpe ward was not greeted with surprise, even by those still unaware that this had just been announced. This left me to imagine that Westborough voters were attuned to this idea already – which made me wonder that Independent disatisfaction was very entrenched. There were voters who still declared themselves as Independent voters, but my limited sampling suggests that their appeal continues to shrink.

It is always interesting to see what response you get when you ask residents when was the last time one of their councillors knocked at their door – I met no-one who could recall when this last occurred. Ask them who their councillors were and the most common response was Dr Vel. Martin Terry was also named – even Lib Dem supporters could not name their councillor, which did surprise me. As for candidates, Mike Royston is clearly becoming better known as a number responded to my opening salvo with “oh yes, we know Mike”.

I have done quite a few doorstep sessions over the last in year in Westborough. It feels like Labour will have a good win here. I expect the Indies to run us close second – although their image has clearly been tarnished. Based on the responses I have received the Tories will again better the Liberal Democrats in Westborough – and if UKIP were to suddenly show an interest here then third spot could be a close contest.

As to issues: Westcliff library, dislike of the Tory administration, parking, jobs, and bills. Surprisingly not one mention of litter or alleyways.

Administration defeated on community pub motion

At the last full council meeting in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea Cllr Julian Ware-Lane submitted the following motion:

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council notes the possibility of submitting the following proposal to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act:

‘That the Secretary of State help protect community pubs in England by ensuring that planning permission and community consultation are required before community pubs are allowed to be converted to betting shops, supermarkets and pay-day loan stores or other uses, or are allowed to be demolished.”

The Council notes that if this power was acquired it would allow the council to determine if pubs should be demolished or converted into other uses and could save many valued community pubs.
The Council resolves to submit the proposal to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act and to work together with Local Works and the Campaign for Real Ale to gain support for the proposal from other councils in the region and across the country.

This was passed for consideration by the Cabinet. The Cabinet rejected the motiion as they considered that “important pubs could be more effectively protected through the use of the relevant provisions of the Localism Act 2011, which allows local groups a right to identify and nominate individual pubs to be listed as an asset of community value.”

Last night’s Place Scrutiny Committee did not agree. On a vote (8-6) it was decided to refer this back to the Cabinet for them to reconsider.

Julian said: “The Conservative-led government’s legislation on assets of community value is largely pointless. This motion, however, sends a signal that we value local pubs.”

Work as hard as you can, then go up a gear

Anne, Ian and Gray out with me in St Luke's this morning

Anne, Ian and Gray out with me in St Luke’s this morning

Complacency is one thing not found amongst Labour activists in Southend, All of our victories are hard fought, and just when you think you are working as hard as you can then is the time to shift up a gear.

I have been out in Westborough, Milton and St Luke’s wards this weekend – and the story is much the same for my colleagues and comrades (although the wards may be different).

Earning the trust of voters in areas that are not safe Labour wards means all-year round campaigning, being highly visible, and being seen to stand up for residents’ concerns.

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