It's time to end the boom in bookies and payday loan stores

COUNCIL bosses want extra powers to stem Glasgow's boom in betting shops and payday loan stores.

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City treasurer Paul Rooney in Knightswood shopping centre, which has several betting and money lending shops. Picture: Colin Templeton
City treasurer Paul Rooney in Knightswood shopping centre, which has several betting and money lending shops. Picture: Colin Templeton

As the Evening Times revealed yesterday the number of bookies in the city has jumped 20% since Westminster liberalised gambling laws seven years ago.

City leaders reckon this is because bookmaking giants are targeting poorer neighbourhoods with stores featuring fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) - the so-called "crack cocaine of gambling".

So they want the Scottish Government to expand the powers they have to refuse planning permission for such premises - as well as payday loan and cheque cashing businesses that often spring up close to bookies.

Glasgow treasurer Paul Rooney has led the city's campaign against the twin scourges of puggies and payday loans.

Speaking in his local shopping precinct in Knightswood, where there are three bookies and two payday lenders, he said: "I am very concerned to learn that bookmakers are taking money away from people encouraging them to part with more of their cash.

"Glasgow has got real areas of deprivation.

"Sadly there is a link with that and the number of bookmakers in areas such as Knightswood.

"You ask: Where are the bookmakers? Where are the licensed premises? Where are the payday lenders? And you will find that there is a high concentration of them in the same street.

"This is typical of high streets across Glasgow."

The council has formally ask the Scottish Govern-ment to empower local authorities to limit the spread of both betting shops and payday loan stores through planning.

Mr Rooney believes that such premises should be established as a planning class of their own.

Right now, a cheque cashing business, for example, would be in the same class of business as a bank or currency exchange.

That means councillors can't refuse a change of use.

Likewise, there is no "change of use" that can be refused when, say, the premises of a recruitment firm becomes a bookies.

A council spokesman said: "Currently, these are designated as Class 2 - the same as financial and professional services.

"This means banks; dental surgeries; doctors; estate agents; solicitors; accountants, and many other premises can be converted to bookies without having to seek consent for a change of use."

Labour's UK leader, Ed Miliband, last week called on English councils to get extra powers to deal with the rise in bookies as he effectively admitted his party's liberalisation of gambling had been a mistake.

Mr Miliband said his party had "learned from the experience" after its reforms saw the numbers of machines mushroom.

The number of bookies in Glasgow, for example, has risen from 210 in 2006 to 250 now in what became a puggy gold rush.

THE city is thought to have more puggies - spread across its poorest neighbour-hoods - than would have been concentrated in a much-mooted but abandoned bid for a supercasino.

Glasgow - as we revealed yesterday - gambles more than £800m a year, about £1400 per citizen, more than anywhere else in Scotland.

That figure includes money won in play but suggests the city has a bigger problem with puggies than elsewhere.

SNP politicians share Mr Rooney's concerns about FOBTs and Glasgow MSP John Mason has been campaigning for councils to get greater powers.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is understood to have raised the matter with his UK counterparts two years ago calling for a review of gaming.

Mr Rooney believes the Scottish Government can act on planning.

But local government minister Derek Mackay, a former leader of Renfrew-shire Council, has told the city treasurer he does not believe reclass-ifying betting shops and payday lenders into a planning category of their own would make a real impact.

In a letter this autumn he said: "In view of the uncertainty over whether planning considerations could be a basis for robust controls over betting shops, the Scottish Government does not intend to pursue a change in the use classes order at the present time."

Glasgow, meantime, is also joining calls for the UK Government to review and reform gambling legislation, including the maximum stakes on puggies, which currently can take £100 a spin, or every 20 seconds.

The council will also carry out a major in-vestigation into betting shops and slot and casino machines - and their relationship with payday lenders - to see what else they can do.

The Association of British Bookmakers, meanwhile, is running a campaign to save local bookies and the jobs of 40,000 people they employ across the UK.

A SPOKESMAN said: "Every single betting shop in Glasgow is licensed to be open by the city council, and no betting shop anywhere in the country can open without a licence from their local council.

"Just as is the case with any other retailer, a betting shop will open in response to and meet customer demand.

"Gaming machines themselves have been in shops for 12 years, so are not new products, but they are popular with our eight million customers."

david.leask@ eveningtimes.co.uk

Local government

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