Voice of the Opposition: April

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics.

Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.

They often say that a week is a long time in politics – that can certainly be true, but if a week is a long time then seven years is almost a lifetime!

Seven years ago, back in 2012, was the first time I raised concerns around Fixed Odds Betting Terminals or FOBTs at overview and scrutiny.

What then followed was a long campaign which I was proud to play a part in. That campaigning has led this week to the change in law taking place, removing the ability for people to gamble £100 every 20 seconds in our high streets and town centres. It was the high stakes, quick speed of the product which led many to calling it the “crack cocaine of gambling”. I’ve heard from many individuals who have lost their home, their job, and their family as a result of these machines.

The gambling industry resisted and resisted this change but the strength of argument meant there was no choice but to change that £100 stake to £2 to bring it in line with other gambling products.

No campaign is won by an individual so I want to recognise many people who played their part, including a range of politicians from Tracey Crouch and the late Mike O Brien to Carolyn Harris and Tom Watson as well as other councillors across the country like Richard Dunbar in Bradford. Alongside that are dedicated campaigners like Matt Zarb-Cousin, Adam Allnutt and Tony Franklin who have spoken of their particular personal experiences in an incredibly powerful way.

There is still further work to take forward on other aspects of gambling including improving addiction support for gamblers which is far less available compared to drug and alcohol support from a public health perspective. There are also the increasing pressures of “skin” gambling within computer games which is focused on young people as well as examples of top-level football teams having adverts for gambling websites on the youth pages of their websites.

As I have always said, I’m not anti-gambling but I am anti problem gambling and be in no doubt that FOBTs increased problem gambling. The change this week will have a very positive impact on communities like Medway and in the worst examples of gambling addiction, will ultimately save lives.

Another issue which has been raised repeatedly, albeit not for quite the same length of time as the FOBTs campaign, is that of out of area taxis and Uber operating in Medway. Recently Medway Labour held a public meeting at MidKent College with more than 250 residents and drivers present. The meeting heard from other campaigners from across the country who are taking on Uber for acting illegally in their areas.

The Medway Labour Licensing Spokesperson Dan McDonald was clear at the meeting that more needs to be done to tackle this issue – standing up for those who play by the rules. Dan will be moving a motion at the April Full Council meeting calling on the council to do more on this, which we’ve pledged to do in our Medway Labour manifesto.

If you want to find out more about the technicalities around this issue, this helpful video can explain more.

As most readers will be aware, last year Medway Council turned 20 but this week has seen the 20th Anniversary of Medway Youth Council (MYC). When it was first launched it was Medway Youth Parliament but despite the name change their mission has consistently been the same – to make sure those without the vote have a voice.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending a number of their annual conferences which tackle some of the biggest issues of the day which impact on young people. MYC also plays a key role in community events like Holocaust Memorial Day and Black History Month.

They also take part in national schemes like Make Your Mark where in 2018 they got the views of more than 10,000 Medway young people highlighting their key concerns which included period poverty, homelessness, equal pay, mental health and knife crime. Politicians from all parties will always listen carefully to the thoughtful, statistical feedback from MYC. My congratulations to all those who have played their part over the past 20 years and I’m sure they will continue to go from strength to strength over the next 20 years – to find out more about MYC check out http://www.medwayyouthcouncil.co.uk/

This is my last monthly column before May 2nd with the choice clearer than ever for the voters of Medway. There are only two parties which are standing for every seat across Medway. Our Labour manifesto is full of realistic, affordable, achievable pledges which will make our communities even stronger, making sure nobody is left behind.

Our team of 55 diverse candidates is ready to serve the residents of Medway – one message we have heard again and again that it is time for change and the current Tory administration have simply run out of ideas compared to our manifesto full of a positive programme for change across Medway.

If you are not sure as to who to lend your vote to on May 2nd The Political Medway has organised a debate, kindly hosted by MidKent College, for people to come along and have their questions answered – you can book your ticket here.

Remember that you will only be able to have your say on the future of Medway if you are registered to vote – the deadline of 12th April is fast approaching, to register only takes five minutes.

It’s your council, it’s your community, it’s your Medway so I would encourage you to vote for the positive change which a Labour administration would bring with greater accountability, greater transparency, taking back control of public services from failed privatisation experiments like Medway Commercial Group, delivering the services which residents rely on and truly rebuilding Medway for the many, not the few.

Vince Maple is the leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition party on Medway Council, and a councillor for Chatham Central.

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