A leading councillor believes a mistake had been made in a decision to end a contract to provide specific counselling services for ‘vulnerable gamblers’ in Milton Keynes.
Every year since 2012/13 Milton Keynes Council has received at least £175,000 from the Aspers Casino MK at Xscape that has been earmarked to help vulnerable gamblers.
It’s part of a licensing agreement with the casino which has seen total contributions of around £1million each year, on top of business rates. Since 2012/13, contributions based on the agreement have totalled £5,218,430, a report to councillors said.
Cllr Catriona Morris, who chairs MK Council’s Licensing Committee, as well as being deputy leader of the Conservative group, revealed that there was an internal battle to even get an item on the agenda of Wednesday’s Licensing Committee. It made it onto the agenda as a ‘late item’ a matter of hours before the advertised start time.
Cllr Morris said: “It is something we have been chasing for some many months and had a variety of reasons why we weren’t going to be able to have one at all. This was not something I was willing to accept in this council year and was adamant we would have something.
“That’s why I was happy that we had it late rather than nothing at all, which was I think the other option.”
A council contract with mental health charity MIND to provide counselling services is due to come to an end on March 31.
Cllr Morris said: “I am very clear and I know others are that the vulnerable gamblers contribution is very clear what it is for and seems now to have been taken out of that and gone into a general adult social care fund.
“I genuinely think there was a misunderstanding within the council over the money being ring-fenced, and having a role.
“I genuinely think a mistake has been made and is something that can be resolved within the month and the problem not go into the next financial year. I’m not feeling that is likely to happen at the moment but the adult social care scrutiny committee are pushing very much.
Cllr Morris said she had had meetings with the casino on Tuesday and said they are “very concerned about it all.”
She added: “Their contribution to this council is over a million pounds a year if you include business rates as well.
“They are somewhat disgruntled that they have a lot of important things they have to do in their licence and the council seems to have messed up on one small part of it.
“It’s an issue that’s not going to go away and as licensing committee we need to keep an eye on because it is clearly part of the licensing agreement.”
Cllr Morris revealed that meetings were taking place behind the scenes between senior councillors and officers to get to the bottom of the decision but was unable to say when the issue may be resolved.