Milton Keynes Council is set to stop using money it receives from the city’s huge casino to pay for the counselling of vulnerable gamblers.
A council meeting tonight Tuesday (February 19) is due to hear that council mental health services in general are under huge pressure and already resources have been provided to support the front line.
Cllr Alice Jenkins chairs the Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee, and says there are questions to answer.
She said: “When it was initially agreed it was expected that the money would be spent to benefit those most affected by the casino, both in terms of local infrastructure and to counteract the social problems caused by gambling.
“There are a lot of questions to be answered as to why the council has stopped funding the MIND counselling service, which is the only real support the council offers to those with gambling addiction, as well as others.
“With so many spiralling problems which come from gambling, such as debt and homelessness, it is critical that these funds are being used properly to support the community, not just squandered in the council coffers.”
Ever since the huge Aspers casino opened in 2013 as Casino MK it has made a series of payments to the council as a condition of its licence.
These payments, totalling £675,000, have included an annual sum of £175,000 that the council has been using to pay the mental health charity MIND to run a counselling and wellbeing service. The rest of the money has been used to support housing and employment.
In 2017-18, MK Council used £154,969 of the payment, topped up with £58,338 from Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group, to provide the counselling services.
Accredited counselling services provide for people with a range of difficulties associated with gambling, including addictive behaviours.
Now, the Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee, has been told that there is “no legal restriction on how the money can be applied”.
The contract with MIND, which was due to end in December, has been extended to April. A report to councillors says this extra time will allow MIND to “develop additional funding opportunities for their services.”
It adds: “After April the council will no longer directly commission counselling services, focusing investment into our frontline mental health social care services.” The council made the decision last year as part of its preparation for its 2018-19 budget.
But a council report to the committee adds: “We remain committed to supporting vulnerable gamblers through utilising community support services and continuing to develop our social care workforce.”
They are also “looking to invest in further training for staff to support gamblers”.
Counselling services will continue to be available through the health service instead, which has a commitment to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).