Dean Russell: I must set the record straight on Camelot – and its work supporting communities

20 Oct

Dean Russell is MP for Watford.

When I was elected the Member of Parliament for Watford in 2019, one of my first calls was to the headquarters of the UK’s National Lottery operator, Camelot.

Camelot employs a considerable number of my constituents and is a great champion for Watford. Given Camelot’s importance to us in Watford, I have always taken a particularly keen interest in the performance of what is – after all – the invention of a Conservative government. The National Lottery etc. Act, spearheaded by then Prime Minister John Major, was passed in 1993, and Camelot launched what has become one of the world’s most successful lotteries in 1994.

Given this fantastic British success story, I have been surprised to read recent articles which have raised questions about Camelot’s performance, which in my view, are very wide of the mark. Of course, everyone is rightly entitled to opinions, and as MPs, we must share ours and those of our constituents. For this reason, as the proud elected representative of many Camelot employees, I felt it incumbent to set the record straight and share my view to balance the discussion.

Firstly, to tackle the biggest misnomer, there has been no decline in National Lottery Good Cause spending. Returns to Good Causes from National Lottery ticket sales last year were actually the highest on record.

Indeed, Camelot is delivering record returns to Good Causes from sales, record prize money to players and record payments in Lottery Duty to the Treasury. Most importantly, annual returns to Good Causes are now over £500 million higher than they were at the start of the third National Lottery licence back in 2009.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned so much about the National Lottery and about the success of that simple, Conservative idea, and how that original vision has been delivered under the custodianship of an operator that over a quarter of a century later is still completely on top of its game.

As a Conservative, I also believe wholeheartedly in levelling up. Since being elected, I have been very supportive of efforts to deliver on this. So, I can completely understand that colleagues may be tempted to believe a new operator promising money will flow into their constituencies would be a good thing.

But the fact is the operator of the National Lottery has no say in where Lottery funding is allocated for good causes. In Watford, like many community-minded businesses, Camelot has been incredibly supportive of our community given the role it plays as a significant local employer, but this is very different – and on a completely different scale – from the funding the National Lottery delivers for good causes every day which is allocated wholly separately.

The location of Camelot, or any operator, has no bearing on where good causes are supported via the National Lottery. It is a false expectation to expect otherwise. Camelot runs the operational aspects, which in the simplest terms is selling lottery tickets; the more tickets sold, the more money for good causes. So the focus should always be on ensuring a successful operator to ensure the money keeps flowing through the National Lottery to good causes across the UK. That is what Camelot’s staff have delivered on for decades.

To put this in context, to date, Camelot has helped – through the sale of National Lottery tickets – the public raise over £43 billion for charities, sports, arts, heritage and community projects, and a further £18.5 billion has gone to the Treasury via Lottery Duty. Every constituency, every postcode, pretty much every community in the UK has benefitted from lottery money. It is part of the fabric of our lives, and we must keep it so.

Camelot’s lottery operation is one of the most generous in the world, returning 95p of every pound spent to society through prizes, returns to Good Causes, Lottery Duty and the all-important retailer commission – the latter having been a lifeline for so many struggling, independent retailers on the high street. It achieves all of this with world-beating efficiency, retaining just five per cent of lottery revenues to cover running costs, technology, staff salaries and indeed profit (which comes in at just one per cent).

Under Camelot’s stewardship, the UK National Lottery has become a world leader and is the fifth-largest lottery worldwide by sales. And as the result of Camelot’s strategy of responsible play, The National Lottery is just 60th in the world by per capita spend. And – while this may be a boring point – Camelot runs a seamless operation. That isn’t down to the good luck that National Lottery winners enjoy. That is hard work, dedication and many years of expertise.

It has also adapted to the times, consistently building on their portfolio to keep the lottery relevant and fit for a modern and digital age, while carefully ensuring that all games are safe to play. So, while Camelot has continued to grow its wide range of draw-based games, it has also built a wide range of online instant win games in response to changing consumer appetites and demand. These games offer a digital option to players in addition to traditional draw-based games and scratch cards.

While some commentators have expressed concerns about this development, all of the statistics from organisations, including GamCare – an independent charity – confirm that the National Lottery is very different from mainstream gambling and the risk of problem play associated with National Lottery products remains extremely low.

In short, I struggle to think of a contract that has delivered more for the public good and for the public purse, with Camelot retaining just one penny in the pound for its performance.

Nor do I understand why this most British of success stories should be criticised because it has trusted Canadian shareholders in the form of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan when the rival bidders for the fourth lottery licence reportedly include a Czech billionaire, the second lottery operator of Italy and an Indian lottery operator.

As Conservatives, we want to see consistent value for money to the public purse, delivered through the private sector with wealth distributed across the UK. Camelot delivers on all of these things – in spades.

So to those critics of Camelot or indeed the National Lottery itself, I would urge them to look again at the record of Watford-based Camelot and take it from someone who has seen up-close the operation of Camelot’s hardworking employees as they deliver results with passion, care and dedication. I am in no doubt that the National Lottery is safe in their hands.

Iain Dale: Cummings. Why bother giving seven hours of testimony – only to not provide supporting evidence?

11 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

This is nothing new, I suppose, but the last 48 hours have not been pleasant in the Twittersphere. In fact, it’s become so unpleasant I am seriously considering stepping back from this increasingly ugly form of social media.

Trouble is, it’s very difficult for me to do that given it’s my prime marketing medium for all the things I do, whether it’s advertising what’s on my radio show, promoting my writing, books and other activities. Sometimes it can be a wonderful thing, but oftentimes it is just a sewer, where vicious, nasty people spew their bile and vitriol no doubt getting a hard on along the way. They’re virtually all men.

On Tuesday I had the temerity to tweet praise for Gareth Southgate’s “Dear England” letter. In my opinion he articulated better than anyone has for a long time what it means to be English and how we demonstrate our patriotism.

And then the abuse started. Apparently it was all a justification for the England players supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Utter rubbish. He and they have made clear that they support equality and fairness for everyone, and that they support the slogan Black Lives Matter, not the political organisation. Surely everyone can support that? Apparently not.

I have repeatedly made clear that I would never take the knee to support a Marxist organisation which supports the destruction of the police, closing prisons and dismantling capitalism. But I am quite happy to make clear that I support equality for all people, whether they are white, black or anything else. Surely any reasonable person would?

Oh no, not on Twitter. I’m a shill, a sellout, obeying my paymasters, not a proper conservative, woke and worse. Far worse. Did I support the England players giving the Nazi salute to Hitler in 1936? Do I think England should make a political statement and withdraw from the Qatar world cup in 2022 because of Qatar’s policy on homosexuality? Yes, I’m sure these trolls care deeply about gay equality. Not.

Over 24 hours I lost 200 Twitter followers and had to block around 50 others, many of them racist. Not all, but many. And this is the level of public discourse we are supposed to get used to, is it? Where people comment on a letter they most probably haven’t even read. Where they just believe what other people say it says. And then they launch violent attacks on those who support the sentiments in the letter without even attempting to understand any nuance. Well, I’ve had enough.

The trouble is, until I retire from political commentary and broadcasting, I’m tied into it and have to suck it up. Boo hoo, many of you will think. You’ve made your bed, you lie in it… Fair enough. No one forces me to do the jobs I do, and most of the time I love it. I’ve never experienced problems with my mental health, but I have a real sense that my mental health is now being affected by it all. I don’t expect any sympathy at all, and I know the solution is in my own hands. It doesn’t make it any easier, though.

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I suppose we have always known that Dominic Cummings is a strange cove. Why would anyone spend seven hours giving evidence to a select committee, make all sorts of serious allegations, say he had the paperwork to back them up and he would provide it to the committee, and then fail to do so. The only conclusion to draw from that is that much of his evidence was fantasy and he can’t back it up with documentary evidence. It’s a very good way to undermine your own credibility and reputation, isn’t it?

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Michael McManus has become a bit of a polymath. I first knew him in the late 1990s when he was working for Sir Edward Heath, and they came to Politico’s to do a book signing.

I was nervous as a kitten as I had heard that the former PM could be rather difficult. In fact, he was charm personified and the conversation flowed very well. Michael then wrote a rather good biography of Jo Grimond, the former Liberal leader, and contributed to the Blue Book series I published on future Conservative policy, which Ed Vaizey was editing.

Michael stood for Parliament in 2001 in Watford but was unsuccessful and since then he has come close to getting a number of safe seats, but never quite got the lucky break. He told me in an episode of my All Talk podcast which will be published next Wednesday that he’s now come off the candidates list. It’s a shame as he would have made a good MP.

Over the last few years he has turned his hand to being a playwright. His latest play is called MAGGIE AND TED and has a two night run at the Garrick Theatre in London on June 28 and 29. It’s all about the relationship between the two former Prime Ministers, and from what he told me on the podcast, it is going to be well worth going to.

Putting on a play in a London theatre is a costly business, especially in the pandemic, and I’d encourage anyone who’s got one of those evenings spare to book a ticket and support an up and coming political playwright, and a thoroughly nice man. And a fellow Hammer. Book tickets here.

Andy Street: One, two, three – it’s a hat-trick of coming Conservative Party conferences for Birmingham

28 Jul

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

For years, the Party conference season was synonymous with the seaside. With the Commons in recess, delegates headed to places like Blackpool, Bournemouth and Brighton, to shape policy in the midst of seaside rock and ‘kiss me quick’ hats.

All that changed in 2008, with a bold decision that sent an important message about Conservative commitment to urban, modern Britain. The conference came to Brum. Last week, I was delighted when Amanda Milling returned here to announce that we will be hosting three more conferences – in 2022, 2024 and 2026.

It was an announcement that was greeted with real excitement. Birmingham is a hospitality city, with exhibition and conference venues that have made us leaders in “business tourism” in the UK.

Holding the Party Conference brings great benefits, both economic and more symbolic ones.

Firstly, of course, Conference brings income to the host city – estimated to be worth £20 million for each conference. This is great news for the region’s economy and jobs as we attempt to safely restart the economy post lockdown.

Major conference and exhibition venues like the NEC and ICC directly employ many thousands of local people, and the West Midlands’ hospitality sector also supports a region-wide supply chain, from hotels, restaurants, bars, events companies, and marketers. This vital sector was brought to a complete halt by Coronavirus. It is no wonder last week’s announcement was so well received, coming hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s announcement that exhibitions could reopen from October 1.

Secondly, the return of Conference to Brum gives us an opportunity to underline our region’s relationship with and connection to Government – bringing, since 2010, the whole Government to the region. Much has been said about the need for Government to escape their South East bubble to connect more with communities north of Watford. By relocating to Birmingham for Conference, ministers will see first-hand how their investments, guided by devolved decision-making and local expertise, are helping level-up the economy.

Thirdly it gives us the chance to showcase the City and wider region. While the traditional warm Brummie welcome hasn’t changed, delegates and the media will notice plenty of visible improvements to Birmingham. They highlight the renaissance that has transformed the Second City in recent years and is set to continue.

When delegates arrive in 2022, a better-connected Birmingham will still be buzzing with the afterglow of the summer’s Commonwealth Games. Trams will have once again become a familiar sight, running past the Conference venue, the length of Broad Street and out towards Edgbaston. We will have seen further huge improvements in the City’s transport network – with the complete rebuilding of University Station (winning Government funding last week).

New, first-generation Sprint bus routes, which months before shuttled international spectators between Commonwealth Games venues, will be bringing people to a city centre transformed by the completion of the £700 million Paradise development. By 2022 Birmingham’s bold, bright new future will be firmly here.

Finally, the location of the annual conference reiterates the political importance of the UK’s cities to our party. When David Cameron moved our annual conference from the traditional seaside setting to our great cities it underlined the party’s ambition to win again in urban Britain. After all, until 1997 those cities contributed an important cohort of MPs and Cabinet Ministers to Conservative Government.

However, that drive to win back urban Britain has proved an elusive challenge, despite the election victories of 2010 and 2015. Even when the “red wall” was breached in 2019 Labour bastions in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds proved resistant. Indeed, of these cities, only Leeds has conservative councillors.

For this entire period, the only Conservative MP in any of our great cities was Andrew Mitchell in Sutton Coldfield. But it was in Brum that the break-through came. In 2019, for the first time since 1987, the Party gained a big city seat – Birmingham Northfield. This was a hugely important and symbolic win for the Party, showing we can win in cities again.

More importantly it has given the people of Northfield constituency a dedicated, effective and sincere champion in Gary Sambrook. Gary has already proved tenacious in fighting for his area – and is pushing, for instance, for further regeneration of the former Rover factory site at Longbridge. Much has already been done to reclaim what had been a derelict eyesore for many years – but Northfield’s new MP is determined to create even more jobs and opportunities there.

Birmingham also sets the pace when it comes to Conservative representation on local authorities in urban Britain. Unlike the other big cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, the Conservatives have run the council here in recent memory and retain a strong, influential base of councillors, led by indomitable campaigner Robert Alden.

In the last local elections Labour’s majority across a city of ten parliamentary constituencies comprised just 4483 votes – less than 500 per constituency, a tiny majority. Indeed, when you consider that my own majority averages 135 in each constituency, it shows how closely fought elections are in our area.

There is a real possibility that when delegates arrive in Birmingham for the conference in 2022, they will be visiting a growing city of more than a million people with a Conservative-led Council. If we are serious in our ambition to be a party that reflects a modern and diverse Britain, achieving this outcome must be a reality.