Watchdog plan to cut staff surprises activists | Society

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The gambling regulator must cut staff, the Guardian has learned, causing dismay among activists after a report found it already too weak.

The 332 full-time employees of the Gaming Commission learned that they were planning to downsize as part of a larger structural reorganization.

The commission declined to comment on the workforce, only confirming that it was speaking to employees “about some changes we are considering” as part of a plan to be more agile in its approach.

But a source aware of the situation said the decision was due to constraints on its annual budget of £ 19 million, which was deemed inadequate by the National Audit Office (NAO) in a report released in February.

Addiction experts and MPs reacted with surprise to the staff cuts, as the NAO feared that the regulator would not be powerful enough to protect addicts and vulnerable people.

Matt Gaskell, clinical manager of NHS Northern Gaming Clinics, said, “This further underscores the need for the government to take a step forward and take definitive legislative action and to strengthen, not weaken, the regulatory framework. “

The NAO, which monitors the effectiveness of public bodies, said in its report that the commission had not adapted to technological changes such as the rise of online and mobile games.

He warned that funding constraints are hampering the commission, whose annual budget is reviewed every three years by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports. It regulates an industry that took £ 11.3 billion from punters last year.

The regulator issued two record fines in the past month, worth £ 25 million combined, as part of an enhanced role review.

The Guardian understands that changes to the commission are being billed as an attempt to free up funds for the most crucial activities.

But MEPs said there was little chance that the regulator would improve while cutting staff.

Labor MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs a multi-stakeholder group of MPs investigating gambling-related harm, said, “Considering the appalling service provided by the commission against a continuing attack on wrongdoing among gaming companies, and a dismal NAO report, I had expected the Gaming Commission to strengthen its services to try to justify their existence.

“If they back down, it must be assumed that they have given up and will declare themselves unfit for employment.”

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Iain Duncan Smith, deputy speaker, said, “If nothing else tells you that the government needs to review the Gaming Commission to give it more teeth, this decision clearly indicates that do it now. “

A commission spokesperson said, “The pace of change and the complexity of the problems we have to deal with are increasing and this means that we must constantly look for ways to be more agile and responsive as new risks or opportunities arise appear.

“We will be publishing our business plan for the next 12 months shortly. In addition to developing this plan, we have discussed with colleagues some of the changes we are considering to meet future challenges, which may affect the way we work and our organization in certain areas. “

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