The regulator hasn’t ruled out compulsory job-losses in its efforts at streamlining its operations, much to the chagrin of the anti-gambling lobby. It seems the Gambling Commission is under attack when it wastes money, and now when it doesn’t.
The Gambling Commission is pressing ahead with plans to significantly downsize its workforce in an effort to become more “agile,” according to major news outlets.
Earlier this week, The Guardian newspaper – known for its zealous championing of the problem gambling cause – quoted what it said were “well-placed sources” within the regulator as saying that senior staff at the watchdog were actively encouraging “voluntary redundancies” amongst its ranks – which currently stand at 332 staff all told.
The Commission is thought to be looking to shave £1m off its staff expenditure – which runs at an annual level widely criticised by both the industry and independent external bodies – and is considering compulsory job-losses should an insufficient number of people volunteer for the chopping block.
“Over the past few months we have been talking to colleagues about some changes we must make to meet the challenges ahead, which will affect how we organise ourselves in some areas,” said a spokesperson for the regulator. “We are still going through that process, while also working closely with the DCMS to address issues around our resources.”
Of course, the news of any downsizing of government never fails to cause the hand-wringing brigade a little froth at the mouth: with much of the foam oozing from anti-gambling campaigners who are lamenting the move, citing what they claim is an already underfunded branch of the state.
“It is for the Gambling Commission to decide how to up its game as radically as is required, but given the huge gaps in its understanding of harms from the gambling industry in the UK and the tortoise-like progress it has made on adapting the rules to tackle those harms, it is hard to see how cutting its staff resource is the answer,” said Labour MP and public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier. “The commission is adrift – DCMS needs to set performance targets [and] the Commission needs to get its funding on a sound, realistic footing and make a proper plan to meet them.”
That said, it was the spiralling costs of the Commission over the years when set against the sustained suppression of problem gambling figures that led to calls for a reduction in expenditure from stakeholder groups in the first place. For the past seven years, problem gambling numbers have reduced in the UK to one of the lowest figures anywhere in the world – a rate which many analysts argue is as close to ground zero as a figure can get.
However, the current issue is no longer the statistical record in controlling problem gambling, it’s the abject failure to sensibly control the narrative – and the fuelling of a fearful discourse is proving to be the fatal flaw in Commission policy. By upping the ante on fear rather than fact – a feature policy statement written in every despatch from the regulator when highlighting arbitrary at-risk numbers rather actual ones, the Commission now finds itself under threat for its very existence. What an irony.
For its part, meanwhile, the DCMS has put out the line that it was determined to take a hard line with the gambling sector. “We’ve worked closely with the commission over the past 18 months to introduce a wave of tough measures to help protect people from the risks of gambling- related harm,” it said. “We have been clear that we will take further action if necessary, including reviewing the Gambling Act to ensure it is fit for the digital age.”