On 4 March 2015 Anna Mathias and I were invited to attend the launch of Manchester and Westminster City Councils’ gambling research project. The event was hosted by Kerry Simpkin of Westminster City Council and Fraser Swift of Manchester City Council and short speeches were made by Councillor Tony Page of the Local Government Association and Rob Burkitt of the Gambling Commission. Councillor John Longsden (Manchester Licensing Chairman) and Councillor Tim Mitchell (Westminster Licensing Chairman) gave a summary of Manchester and Westminster’s current gambling scene and local concerns and Fraser Swift and Kerry Simpkin gave Manchester and Westminster’s reasons for commissioning this project and how it will be used. The back drop to the project is the number of gambling venues and in particular betting offices in Manchester and Westminster, although all present were careful to confirm that the project was a general project and not aimed at Betting Offices or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
Rob Burkitt from the Gambling Commission explained that Section 153 of the Gambling Act 2005 sets out the legal framework for Local Authorities to consider new applications for gambling premises licences and pointed out that whilst the starting point is “aim to permit”, licensing authorities must do so in accordance with the Gambling Act, Codes of Practice, Gambling Commission Guidance and Local Authority Policies. It did appear to me that Rob Burkitt was not correct in his interpretation of the legislation, but the thrust of his argument related to the fact that if the local authority policy highlighted specific concerns in specific areas (for example, a concern about protecting the vulnerable in an area with a lot of Homeless Projects etc) then the Licensing Authority has to consider these concerns when considering new licence applications.
The research is being undertaken by Geofutures and Heather Wardle who is a research director at Nat Cen and heads their research in to gambling and leads key studies in to the British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Geofutures are a data science practice who map out data on to reports. Heather Wardle explained that she would be speaking to a large cross section of people and would be looking at different sectors of society who may be harmed by gambling and then mapping out hot spot areas in which there was an abundance of these sectors. The work would try and look at how characteristics of vulnerability data map out and would be a localised investigation. The work would take approximately four months and Westminster City Council and Manchester City Council would integrate their research in to their local policy.
It was noted during the launch event that there is no definition of vulnerable persons and no real evidence as to what type of person may gamble more, beyond their means or fail to make an informed decision.
During the question and answer session it became clear that the research would identify groups of people who may be vulnerable to gambling problems. This may be a certain group of people such as “homeless people” or it may be a certain ethnic group. Indeed it may be some other group that the research would come up with, but it did not seem particularly clear to me as to whether the research would actually find that a particular group is being harmed by gambling. The question and answer session appeared to me to lead to the conclusion that a number of groups would be established who may be harmed from gambling. Geofutures would then map out areas within Manchester and Westminster where these particular groups of people may be and the Local Licensing Policies would set out that these areas are areas of concern.
I am delighted that we have been invited to take part in the research and will be meeting with Heather Wardle in the near future. It will be interesting to see the results of the research which will be published hopefully within the next four months.