No, I am not. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a bee in his bonnet about this issue, but I do not share his concern. I believe in the free market and the market of supply and demand. If there is not enough demand to meet the supply of those shops, they will close down. I am sure that he would prefer high streets to have betting shops rather than shops that have been boarded over and are ripe for vandalism. I certainly welcome betting shops moving on to the high street when other shops will not.
It is for the reason that I have outlined that I disagree with the premise that the gambling industry should be compelled to fund the treatment of problem gambling. It seems absurd, especially as fast-food companies such as Burger King and Krispy Kreme do not fund research into and the treatment of obesity. I used to work for Asda and I cannot remember anybody saying that Asda was expected to fund treatment of obesity just because we happened to sell cream cakes down one of our aisles. It seems that gambling is treated on a completely different basis from those other industries.
Discussion of the issue also strikes me as disproportionate. The gambling industry’s funding target is set at £6 million for 2011 and £7 million for 2012. In contrast, the Portman Group, another highly regarded organisation, raised £6.3 million between 2007 and 2009 for their trust’s education and campaigning work. Given that the UK alcoholic drinks industry is valued at more than £30 billion, the demands on the gambling sector seem less than fair or consistent, to say the least.
Nevertheless, we are where we are for the time being. Given that the industry is pouring so much money into the issue, and given that it has the greatest vested interest of all in the money being spent wisely and in being successful in reducing problem gambling, does the Minister not agree that it would be fairer and make more sense if it had a greater role in how the money that it gives is spent?
In October 2008, the Gambling Commission recommended the establishment of a new structure to raise and distribute funding for gambling research, education and treatment. The previous Labour Government insisted that if a voluntary agreement was not reached, they would intervene and ensure that a statutory levy was installed. I am interested to hear the Minister’s definition of “voluntary”, because that certainly is not what I understand the term to mean.
As a result, new bodies were created. The GREaT Foundation—Gambling Research, Education and Treatment —raises funds for research, education and treatment of problem gambling by collecting voluntary donations from the gambling industry. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board advises Ministers and the Gambling Commission on priorities of funding, and the Responsible Gambling Fund is an independent charity that was set up to distribute the money raised. In addition, there are three expert advisory panels. Can the Minister explain why we need all of those? Why can the body that raises the money not be trusted also to allocate it? In short, we appear to have a bureaucratic nightmare—not to mention the cost. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board costs about £250,000 a year just to run, which does not give any benefit to those suffering from problem gambling.
Almost half the funding last year was given to a charity called GamCare, which is the leading provider of information, advice, support and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. GamCare has established a responsible gambling code of practice and certification process that have been adopted by many of the successful betting companies. The 11-point code consists of an age verification-parental supervision process, encourages a balanced advertising and promotional message for gambling companies, and allows customers to set a daily, weekly or monthly deposit limit on their gambling accounts.
Other initiatives include a self-exclusion policy whereby customers can close their accounts for six months, after which they must present a written case for why they should be allowed to use their accounts again. Customers can also limit their session times for games or events that have no natural end, which provides them with greater control over their gambling. Employees in gambling companies also receive responsible gambling awareness training, which assists them in identifying the triggers and causes of problem gambling and raises awareness of the relevant support agencies and the policies, processes and regulatory requirements that surround the gambling industry.