Carl Packman reports on Rowenna Davis’s campaign to allow councils the powers needed to ensure that high streets aren’t overrun by betting shops.
Rowenna Davis, a Southwark councillor and campaigner, has today launched her high streets first campaign – the aim of which is to pressure Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, to giving local councils the power to limit the number of betting shops in a local area.
As Davis penned in a recent blog post:
“My constituents tell me [betting shops are causing problems]… The problem is that as a councillor, I can’t do anything about it.
“Current planning laws mean that local councils have no meaningful way of controlling the number of betting shops in their area.”
The reason local councils are powerless to limiting the amount of betting shops in their local area is because currently betting shops are classified in the same way as banks, estate agents and restaurants.
But a recent report by the “queen of shops” Mary Portas recommended that the government make changes to the status so as to easily keep check of the number of such shops on the high street.
In Portas’s independent review into the future of the high street she notes her belief that:
The influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets […] Currently, betting shops are oddly and inappropriately in my opinion classed as financial and professional services.
Having betting shops in their own class would mean that we can more easily keep check on the number of betting shops on our high streets.
Davis is keen to point out that this is not an anti-gambling campaign. She told me:
There’s nothing wrong with responsible gambling, I do it myself. But people in my constituency are worried that their high streets are being overrun by bookies, and local councils don’t have any meaningful powers to change that.
Every time a good local business closes in the downturn, another betting shop seems to open in it’s place. We now have more betting shops than libraries or post offices in some of our poorest areas. People love their high streets – they should be able to shape what they look like.
This isn’t about whether you are for or against gambling, it’s whether you support a community’s right to choose.
In an article for the New Statesman at the end of last year, Davis pointed out that betting shops were often conveniently located close to payday loan shops.
In December last year the Financial Times ran a story (£) explaining how American executives of Speedy Cash – a payday lending business – travelled to London in order to take advantage of the UK’s soft touch regulation on the industry.
Jeff Weiss, the chief executive of listed US lender DFC Global – now the biggest UK payday lender by market share, owning among others The Money Shop – speaking at a New York investment conference during the summer of 2011, was nothing if not honest when he said:
“We diversified into geographies like Canada and the UK with relatively little competition where we can build a dominant market position.”
Weiss likes to use the term Alice – “asset-limited, income-constrained, employed” – to refer to his customer base, but neglects to mention the risk payday loans have even for the employed, who are suffering a relative fall in their incomes, pay freezes, underemployment and the rising cost of utilities.
What Davis has realised is that the rise in betting shops and payday loan stores has taken place on our, often deprived, high streets, at a time when people are feeling the pinch the most.
With interventions from the coalition government like the reform of the social fund – which, instead of expanding the emergency crisis payments, made the decision to scrap it entirely – more people are likely to find alternative means of surviving until pay day.
Davis’ high street first campaign addresses a major part of the problem, which is that councils are unable to have a say on how many betting shops litter a locality, which therein creates greater social and economic problems. Eric Pickles would do well to listen to Davis, and take heed of the recommendations on betting shops in the Portas review.
To sign the petition, click here.
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
• Legal loan sharks are licking their lips as the social fund is scrapped – Pete Jefferys, January 26th 2012
• Ignore Wonga’s spin; they’re still targeting students – Alex Hern, January 13th 2012
• Wonga target students with friendly advice: Take our 4000% loan – Alex Hern, January 11th 2012
• Here’s what the Portas review left out – Elizabeth Cox, December 13th 2011
• Livingstone tackles “proliferation” of betting shops – Toby Thomas, September 9th 2010