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DCMS leadership uncertain as Labour MP Debbonaire loses seat

| By Robert Fletcher
Shadow secretary of state for the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), Thangam Debbonaire, has lost her parliamentary seat in the general election, leaving the leadership of the department under the new Labour government unclear and prompting concerns about timings for land-based gaming reforms.
DCMS Labour Debbonaire

Debbonaire was due to take over the DCMS brief as shadow secretary. Despite Labour’s landslide victory, she lost her Bristol Central seat to the Green party’s Carla Denyer.

Debbonaire secured 14,132 votes to Denyer’s 24,539.

Starmer selected Debbonaire in a shadow secretary of state role for the DCMS in September last year. She served as MP for Bristol West from 2015, which evolved into the Bristol Central seat after boundary changes in 2023.

Incidentally, Lucy Frazer, who had been serving as secretary for culture, media and sport in the outgoing Conservative government, also lost her seat last night. Frazer narrowly lost to Charlotte Cane of the Liberal Democrats in Ely and East Cambridge. 

What next for the DCMS?

The news raises questions about what may happen with the DCMS. Will Starmer look to a direct replacement for Debbonaire or consider a different approach?

George McGregor, executive director for the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta), told iGB Debbonaire still may have a role to play.

“There is a possibility she may be put into the house of lords and become the secretary of state from the lords,” McGregor suggested. 

Stephanie Peacock set to become gambling minister

There could also be a restructuring of the way DCMS is run, splitting out the gambling brief, McGregor suggested.

That will presumably be taken up by Stephanie Peacock, shadow gambling minister, who held onto her Barnsley South seat last night.

But this may cause delays to the rollout of the Gambling Act review’s reforms he warned. “If you get two new people, a new secretary of state for culture and a new gambling minister, everything could be put on pause for another few months or years.”

Could DCMS changes cause delays for land-based reforms?

Just ahead of the election announcement, a package of land-based reforms were announced, including a new 2:1 ratio of Category B to Category C and D gaming machines in bingo halls and arcades and lifting the prohibition on debit card payments for machines.

These reforms, McGregor says, are crucial for the retail sector. Bacta will be pushing for action now a new government is in place, he added.

“We’ll also be pushing for a review of stakes and prizes for gaming machines. The government hasn’t allowed an increase in stakes and prizes on gaming machines in the UK for 10 years. And in pubs for 13 years.

“We’re asking for an increase in stakes and prices just to catch up with inflation. Nothing more, nothing less. So that’s another one of our asks for an incoming Labour government.”

McGregor hopes Labour’s recent support for land-based reforms will continue post-election. “If, before the election, the Labour ministers were showing broad-based cross-party support for the various reforms, and I’m talking about the stake reductions and the land-based deregulation of cashless and the deregulation of adult gaming centres, presumably that’s what they want to take forward.

“It’d be rather curious if you had cross-party support in June for a set of measures and then in July, when they get into government, they say they’re not interested anymore. I think the very fact they had a form of words indicates that they want to make progress in continuing the reforms which are currently on the table,” he concluded.

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