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Public investment not gambling is the key to infrastructure

The axe of the Manchester super casino may be unpopular now, but this could be a good thing for the city in the long run - provided money feeds into its regeneration, says NCE's editor, Antony Oliver

Official confirmation this week that plans for the construction of a new super-casino in Manchester's run-down Beswick area have been scrapped must surely be a victory for common sense.

At best the idea of basing the regeneration of a deprived area around the introduction of large scale gambling begs the question "is that really the best we can do?" in terms of planning and social policy.

Ever since the National Lottery was launched in 1994, I have had an uneasy feeling about the use of gambling as a form of public revenue raising. The lottery is and always has been to me a clear tax on hope.

Yes, significant sums of money are raised by the National Lottery's expanding portfolio of "games". According to the National Lottery website, "over 280,000 grants have been awarded, totalling over £20bn and benefiting all sorts of people and organisations across the UK… ranging from Olympic athletes and charities, through to schools and underprivileged groups".

And equally, I suppose, any new super-casino complex would also generate similarly massive revenues and thus be available to underpin the supporting infrastructure and future development in the area, bringing jobs and businesses.

But at what cost? There is clear evidence that most of the money being ploughed into the National Lottery's weekly draws and scratchcard products comes from people who can least afford it. Has anyone calculated the social impact of this "get-rich-quick" mindset promoting policy?

Similarly for all the high-rollers that a super-casino will draw in from around the world there will be surely be many more locals drawn into new a life of spiralling debt. How much will this cost the taxpayer to manage in the long term?

So in short, is this really the best, most creative way that we can come up with to pay for the vital infrastructure to drive forward the growth of the nation? I seriously hope not.

Thus the decision to can the Manchester super-casino idea was actually very bold and forward thinking. It may not be popular in Manchester in the short term but must be the kind of common sense, big picture decision making that this country's infrastructure needs to see more of.
We need more such decision making by government. Decision making which says no, the private sector doesn't have all the answers to the nation's social and infrastructure problems.

We need more decision making that says yes, there is a role for the private sector to play but actually there are times when early investment by the taxpayer really will save having to put more money in later.

- Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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