The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.
The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.

Although I usually use this last post of the week to witter on about the past week I’m going start off with an event two weeks ago.

Battersea Police Ball
I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week, but on Saturday 28 November I attended, along with about 1,500 other people, the Battersea Police Ball. This is a fantastic annual event organised by the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel to raise funds for their work throughout the year.

As ever it was held in Battersea Park, and was a truly fantastic evening. It’s my 13th year of going and in all the time have never had anything but a great night out.

My congratulations to everyone involved in the organisation of the event.

Community Safety stall
Returning to the past week I spent some time on Saturday with the Community Safety Team who were manning, with the Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team and London Fire Brigade, a stall at Clapham Junction Asda. The purpose was to get out and offer advice (and a few freebies) to local residents. I posted earlier today about one incredibly positive aspect of their work and this is another.

Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership
In the middle of the week I chaired the Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership. The Partnership was set-up to try and improve joint working between everyone and to achieve some very challenging targets for getting people off benefits and into work.

Frankly, the recession has had a massive impact (the body and targets all pre-date the recession) but the body still serves a purpose. For example, during the meeting we discovered that Jobcentre Plus is ‘poaching’ people from a service we use to help long term unemployed people people back into work.

There’s nothing sinister about it, Job Centre Plus are now required to work more closely with the long term unemployed. But while that is a positive it means that the work that had already been done is lost as the Job Centre start from scratch. We’re now looking at whether we can prevent the poaching altogether, and if we can’t how we can ensure the unemployed person sees a progression, rather than getting halfway through one service to then have to start afresh with another.

Full council
Wednesday was the year’s last full council, and the year ended not with a bang but a whimper. It has to be said that the formal meetings of the council can be a bit, well, dull!

I’m tempted to suggest that it’s because the council is so well run it’s hard for anyone to disagree with what we do. But that isn’t the case. Despite only having one-sixth of the council seats the Labour group get, effectively, half the time of the council meeting to ask question and debate their issues. I don’t think the lack of spark at these meetings is for want of opportunity – but am at a loss to suggest why it isn’t there at the moment.

Police Borough Commander
I also had one of my regular meetings with Chief Superintendent Low, the borough police commander. These are useful catch-ups, making sure we both know what’s on each others minds and both sides are working together as well as they can. I believe (and I hope that he would agree!) the working relationship between the council and police has continued to get stronger over the years, and the fact that we are inner London’s safest borough reflects that.

Architectural Tour
And finally, last night was the council’s ‘Architectural Tour’. I did ponder whether I should include this or not, since it could be seen as cliquey or worse – but decided transparency is by far the best way to avoid that. Besides, on reflection I’m rather proud of it. I was one of the people who started it in 2002 and since then it has raised thousands for various supported by the Mayor each year, this year’s beneficiaries were the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Scouts and Guides

The evening is, fairly simply, a tour combined with a quiz around various sites of architectural merit in Wandsworth, which all happen to be pubs. The council divides into tribal loyalties, with department pitting themselves against department (and councillors) and being able to host the trophy – and even the wooden spoon – for a year has become quite an honour to a department.

Congratulations this year go the Housing Department, who are not only one of the country’s biggest social landlords, but also fairly hot on music, literature history and able to take a good guess on how many animals in London zoo are of unknown sex!

(Incidentally, the zoo don’t know the sex of 13,811 of their 14,665 animals at the time of writing.)

It was a lengthy Regeneration and Community Safety OSC last night – the focus of most of the evening was on crime and disorder, but one paper towards the end of the evening generated a lengthy and interesting debate.

The paper was proposing that Wandsworth renews its ‘no casino’ policy. If you want to read it, the paper and appendices can be found on the council’s website – scroll down to item 18, it’s paper 09-485.

To give a potted summary since the Gambling Act 2005 a council has been able to adopt a no casino policy for up to three years in 2006 the council passed a resolution to that effect and it is now time to review that decision.

There were two key points to the discussion.

First, are casinos so ‘evil’ that we would oppose any in Wandsworth?

Second, isn’t it better to adopt a more flexible policy, since in 2012 circumstances might have changed and we might actually want a casino.

I found it a really interesting discussion. As a Conservative there’s a real conflict between the libertarian ideal – that we should impose as little regulation as possible – and any vision we might have that would be incompatible with casinos. Additionally, it’s not as if we don’t have gambling on every high street. Bookmakers are common, every pub has fruit-machines and every newsagent sells Lotto temptation that comes with even longer odds than any casino offers.

But they operate differently. Gambling is not the main trade of a pub or newsagent, and while it is for a bookmaker, they don’t offer ancillary facilities like a bar, food or entertainment that casinos often offer.

The flexibility argument is more compelling; the opposite of a no casino policy is not a will-open-casino policy. We would still have to consider applications and could reject them. But we wouldn’t have total control, a casino operator could appeal, and might win, a rejection, meaning we ended up with a casino we considered inappropriate. And even though we could add conditions to any licence, we’re still fairly limited, we couldn’t for example set ‘quality’ standards. In the eyes of the law a casino is a casino is a casino (likewise, in planning terms, there’s no difference between Poundstretcher and Fortnum and Mason, they are just retail outlets).

But for me the decision boils down to the type of Wandsworth we want. Wandsworth is a residential borough. Increasingly it’s a family borough. Proudly, it’s a business borough. And I just don’t see a casino fitting into that.

A casino would profoundly change an area. It would drive the night-time economy and would undoubtedly mean that shops, bars and restaurants in the area would change to reflect that. And I don’t think that’s what we want.

An anecdote I didn’t share with the committee goes back to 2006. I was at the Battersea Police Ball with my wife and friends (a huge event that raises funds for the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel) and as it came to an end one suggested we all go to the casino where he’s a member.

So we piled into a couple of cabs and headed up to St James. While I didn’t lose my house at roulette I did get a little more gregarious after a few shandies…

It took me weeks to pluck up the courage to look at the photos I insisted on having taken with every member of staff I spoke to. Even now I cringe thinking about it and couldn’t bring myself to use one to illustrate this post. And while no harm was done (all the staff posed for photos with great humour, as did a couple of other customers) I ask you this – do you really want people like me rolling into the borough late at night for a few hours of drinking and cards then getting a cab back to their quiet, residential borough?

I certainly don’t.

In London there are plenty of places with established night-time economies into which a casino would fit nicely. Wandsworth isn’t one of them.

The policy now has to go to the council’s Executive and full council (legally only the full council can make the decision) before going to a public consultation. Of course, you can have your say right here!