The latest bright idea from the coalition government, liberalised gambling laws, has an uncanny parallel with a similar bright idea of the previous Labour Government – 24 hour drinking.
The changes to the licensing laws have been an unmitigated disaster for our town centres, making them no-go areas at weekends, unless you are one of the thousands of 18-30’s determined to become hopelessly intoxicated and dangerously aggressive.
Changing the gambling laws won’t have the same type of negative impact as the changes to the drinking laws. However, making it even easier for the public at large to gamble to excess, will prove just as damaging in the long run. I can’t workout whether this is an idea born out of desperation to find a further source of deficit reducing revenue, or a sign of some sort of inappropriate favouritism, where looking after the financial interests of those who fund political parties and campaigns, takes precedent over everything else. I wonder how many expensive lunches it took the gambling industry to persuade ministers this was a good idea.
These proposals have been dressed up as localising control, giving councils the power to determine what happens locally. If its anything like the licensing laws, all it will do is impose yet another function on councils that are already struggling to maintain current services. The one thing it won’t do, is, as with the licensing laws, give councils the ability to say no, simply because they believe it would be bad for their community.
Whilst on the subject of lobbying, how long do you think it will take before ministers start releasing media statements, saying how good it would be for everybody if we retained the changes to Sunday Trading laws, currently only in place for the Olympics.
Sometimes I feel like a second rate Nostradamus, when something I was whinging about weeks or months previously, actually comes to pass. Having accused George Osborne of being a closet Yank, because of his willingness to see a planning free for all used to drive his growth agenda, we now see that he is proposing to relax the Sunday Trading Laws for a trial period. Don’t be surprised to see the trial continue without a break, as all George’s mates in the retailing industry, continue to shamelessly lobby him, for it to become the norm.
As well as regretting this further erosion of what supposedly makes Sunday different from every other day of the week, I would question what the rationale for this change is. Apart from transferring more money from the pockets of hard pressed working people into the bulging bank balances of shareholders, how will this change help the recovery, or offer real growth?
We, the British public are constantly being berated by our politicians for having too much personal debt and told to reduce our reliance on credit to feed our naked consumerism. Yet George Osborne is about to propose something that can only make that debt grow further, as a bored public, credit cards in hand, now spend their Sundays wandering the aisles of department stores stores full of tempting imported consumer goods.
Also, how is increasing retail spending supposed to improve the national debt situation overall? With most of the goods purchased coming from foreign imports and not from home grown manufacturers, how does that help the dire financial situation we currently find ourselves in? No doubt the increase in VAT taken, combined with the increase in tax businesses will have to pay on their takings, will make the Government’s balance sheet look slightly better. However, given that there is every chance that this will be at least equalled by an increase in personal debt, isn’t this just fool’s gold?