By Warwick Bartlett
John Penrose MP, the previous Minister in charge of gambling affairs at the DCMS, was keen to see an end to the Levy and was working hard with racing and betting to find an alternative that would fit the free market ideals of the Conservative Party.
The Olympics are now over and DCMS apparently needs fewer Ministers, so the gambling brief has passed to Hugh Robertson MP who apparently does not share the same appetite for ending the Levy.
The subsidy that passes from punters and bookmakers to fund racing is probably the only surviving subsidy of its type in the UK. At its time of inception there were six similar subsidies, the most notable being the making of motion pictures. A percentage of the ticket sales went to subsidise the making of British films that were arty but no one wanted to pay to see. None of the six subsidies exist to today.
Having given evidence to Donoughue and read all of the corresponding information over the years I have come to the conclusion that the Levy will remain imperfect not because there is no alternative but because politicians do not have the will to take the hard decisions necessary.
After all the discussions and having assessed every possible alternative the only way forward in my view is for Government to bring both sides together and inform them that the levy will end on a specific date and both sides should come together to resolve the funding. Government at that point should have nothing further to do with the process other than set in motion the necessary parliamentary statute to end the Levy.
This means that the Horserace Betting Levy will be with us forever.
So far as Government is concerned the main cause of contention is the current method of arbitration when the two sides do not agree. The Minister is called into determine the result and Ministers dislike having to do so. The likelihood is that a longer than one year deal will be cobbled together even though statute calls for the Levy to be decided yearly.
In earlier years a five year deal was agreed as a gentleman’s agreement. In the litigious world we now live in one wonders if there are sufficient number of gentlemen left to carry the day.