UPDATE 5.30pm: Tracey has now resigned from the government, so that makes this article a bit redundant now!
Just when you think this government can’t get any more incompetent, they prove to you that they can. And no, I’m not talking about Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes’s shambolic appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week.
A little noticed paragraph of the Chancellor’s budget speech concerned the reduction in the stake at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2. Listening to Philip Hammond’s speech I must admit I didn’t immediately twig that he was announcing a delay to the introduction of this long overdue measure. He said it would come into effect next October, a full six months later than intended. He said…
From October next year, I can confirm that we will increase Remote Gaming Duty on online games of chance, to 21%… …in order to fund the loss of revenue as we reduce FOBT stakes to £2.
Only in the Red Book did we learn the real truth, that the reduction in FOBT stakes would also be delayed until October. Further proof you always have to read the small print in budget statements.
Clearly the lobbyists for the betting companies have been very busy beavers indeed.
The minister responsible for gambling, Tracey Crouch, just happened to be a ministerial visit to the United States when this emerged. It is unknown whether she was consulted about the delay, let alone knew that it would be announced in the budget documents.
A declaration of interest here. Tracey Crouch is a friend of mine, and I have interviewed her on my radio show about this subject on several occasions. I know how strongly she feels about it. She went through agonies persuading the Treasury and Number Ten to go down this road, and the fact that she succeeded was a good demonstration of how junior ministers can affect real change if they are totally committed to it.
She knew the effects of these dreadful machines and how addictive they can become, and was determined to save more people from going down this very dangerous road, no matter what the political costs might be.
Perhaps she, and others, underestimated the powerful vested interests that were ranged against her. The betting industry has spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds fighting this measure and it looks as if Philip Hammond has bowed to their demands.
Stephen Swinford, who is becoming on the best story-getting political journalists in Westminster, is reporting this morning that Tracey Crouch is on the brink of resignation. He writes on the Telegraph website…
Tracey Crouch, a culture minister, is understood to be furious after the Treasury announced in the Budget that the reduction in the stakes will be delayed by six months until October 2019. On Wednesday evening Ms Crouch, the Sports & Civil Society Minister, refused to rule out quitting when contacted by The Telegraph during a visit to the US. She was due to return to the UK on Thursday morning. Two friends of Ms Crouch confirmed to The Telegraph that she is considering her position. Her resignation would be a significant blow to Theresa May, who used her conference speech to renew her pledge to tackle the “burning injustices” of society. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, said: “The power of the industry lobbying at Westminster is sickening.” Downing Street spokesman said the October deadline was “a balance between making sure we protect those who work in the industry and making sure that we bring in this really important change”.
The Prime Minister would be mad to let this happen.
Tracey Crouch has been an incredibly effective Minister for Sport and she has championed the government’s loneliness strategy. It’s a job she is clearly suited to and she must continue in her post.
If she resigns there will be no one there to ensure that this much needed measure is actually introduced. Without her there I can quite see it being dropped completely.
On a personal level she will be feeling incredibly let down (and I should say at this point that I haven’t spoken to her) but on a political level, her resignation might be completely justified in her own mind, but will it actually aide the cause of reducing the harm FOBT machines do? No it wouldn’t.
I hope she stays. Indeed, she must.