Livingstone tackles “proliferation” of betting shops

Ken Livingstone today announced his intention to reduce the "huge" spread of betting shops across London's high streets.

Ken Livingstone today announced his intention to reduce the “huge” spread of betting shops across London’s high streets, as part of his campaign to become Labour’s mayoral candidate. He is backed by Tottenham MP and shadow higher education minister David Lammy, who has been vocal about the issue for some time, and is Mr Livingstone’s campaign chairman.

The two intend to lobby Eric Pickles, communities and local government secretary, to amend the Decentralisation and Localism Bill so that it increases residents’ power over planning permission, and places gambling shops in a different category from other financial institutions such as banks and building societies.

According to Livingstone and Lammy, betting shops are increasingly attracted to less affluent areas; in fact they “target” them. Whilst insisting that he is not on a “moralistic crusade” against gambling in general, Lammy has accused William Hill of “profiting from the desperation of the poorest in society”, pointing out that whilst Newham has over 90 betting shops, prosperous Richmond has just 29.

They argue that betting shops are taking the places of essential local amenities and shops. In Seven Sisters, Paddy Power are attempting to replace Every Bodies Music, a famous local music shop that has existed for over 40 years; Lammy observes that there are 39 betting shops in his Tottenham constitueny, but no bookshops.

Livingstone, meanwhile, draws attention to the fact that there were 2,100 gambling licenses in operation in London in 2009, up from 1,700 in 2003 – an increase of 400 or of almost 25 per cent over 6 years.

He said:

“… since legislation governing the criteria to obtain a gambling license was relaxed by the 2005 Gambling Act, many parts of London have seen an explosion in the number of betting shops.”

His figures, however, are slightly misleading. Tom Kenny of the Association of British Bookmakers told Left Foot Forward that since the 2005 Gambling Act came into force in September 2007, there has been “no net increase in London betting shops, but actually a slight decline”. Livingstone’s 25 per cent increase statistic does not therefore appear to have any relation to the Gambling Act, he said, and should be viewed as mere rhetoric.

However, Mr Kenny conceded that since the Gambling Act, there has been more freedom for betting shops to locate. And this is essentially what Livingstone wants to change, by increasing the powers of local authorities to refuse planning permission to gambling shops in areas already saturated by them.

Earlier this year, the London Assembly lamented the loss of small indendent shops in the city. The Livingstone-Lammy campaign ties into this, and Ken has taken the fight to Boris Johnson, arguing that he has

“… neither the energy nor interest to get involved in an issue that is so important for the day to day quality of life for millions of Londoners.”

The Mayor has yet to respond.

A spokesman for William Hill told Left Foot Forward he was opposed to Livingstone’s plans. He said he was “unaware of any betting company which doesn’t open where there isn’t demand”, and pointed out that for the computer illiterate, the social environment of the betting shop was important.

But Livingstone insists:

“This is not an attack on gambling. We want a decent balance of shops on our high streets and there is a place for betting shops in our communities.”

And David Lammy adds:

“Councils can already decide that there are too many bars and pubs in a particular area: why shouldn’t the same be true of betting shops?”

William Hill odds on the next London Mayor:

Boris Johnson: odds on; Ken Livingstone 6/4; Oona King 8/1

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