Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Micromanaging Britain.

The government has changed its policy once again on the issue of casinos. Having first announced a massive launch of Super Casinos, then reversed that idea and they have now announced that there will be 16 regional casinos. This seems like the worst of all worlds to me as the casinos won't be large or concentrated enough to attract tourism but will be readily available to encourage gambling.

The actual decision though is less important than how it was made, the Department of Culture decides that a fixed number of casinos will be built and then local authorities beg for the rights to host one in the deluded belief that they will endow their god forsaken towns with a Las Vegas stlye glamour. The decision making reeks of 1940s style central planning:

Casinos with up to 150 slot machines and prizes of up to £4,000 are expected for Leeds, Southampton, Great Yarmouth, Middlesbrough, Solihull, Hull, Milton Keynes and Newham in London.

Smaller sites are also expected for Somerset, Dumfries and Galloway, Scarborough, Wolverhampton, Swansea, Luton, Torbay and East Lidsey.

It is noticeable that none of the current world famous resorts which have used casinos to transform themselves into entertainment centres (Las Vegas, Sun City, Atlantic City, Macao or Aruba for instance) have followed the UK approach of government allocated regional gambling monopolies almost designed to stifle innovation and instead have come about by local governments introducing more relaxed entertainment laws than the rest of the country or region that they are and allowing a wide range of venues to compete for business. Is it likely that Andy Burnham, the culture secretary is a better judge of what is suitable for a community than those communities themselves?

This approach of Westminster taking decisions that simply should not be in the purview of National Government can also be seen in the fiasco over licensing laws, which has followed a similar pattern of the government's position changing on an annual basis. It seems quite obvious to me that there are some places where 24 hour drinking will cause a large increase in public disorder (Scotland for example) but equally there are other areas where a more relaxed approach is beneficial. Instead the government implements a one size fits all approach that doesn't account for local differences.

Most of the wealthiest countries on the planet that don't rely on oil revenues are either very small or highly decentralised which ensures that most decisions are taken taken by people close enough to see what the results are. It's fair to say that Mr Burnham or his successors won't be losing sleep if the casino in say Luton doesn't have the desired result a local council would be bothered. The over centralised nature of Britain isn't just a result of Labour policies, it is the path that governments of both parties have pursued at least since the end of World War II and neither party seems willing to change that path.

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