Problem Gambling Foundation loses Govt funding

00:20, Mar 21 2014

Labour says funding for the Problem Gambling Foundation has been stopped because the foundation opposed the deal to increase the number of gambling machines at SkyCity Casino.

But the Government has confirmed the new holder of the contract to provide health and counselling services for problem gamblers throughout New Zealand is the Salvation Army, which also opposed the SkyCity deal.

Labour's Internal Affairs Spokesman Trevor Mallard said the foundation was being forced to close its doors because it vocally opposed the deal between the Government and SkyCity to increase the number of pokies in the Auckland casino, in return for building a new national convention centre.

"Its funding will end in July and most of the foundation's staff are expected to lose their jobs," he said.

"It will only be funded to provide particular services to the Asian community.

"The foundation, which has counselled about 25,000 people over the past 20 years, will also end its temporary services in 11 other locations."

Mallard said the foundation was the largest provider of problem-gambling services in Australasia and "it is hard to imagine a more qualified organisation to do this work".

Health Ministry group manager Rod Bartling said negotiations were still ongoing, but the tender process was fair and independently assessed.

"The ministry can confirm that it has informed the Problem Gambling Foundation that it does not intend to renew its national contract to prevent and reduce gambling harm," he said.

"The process to re-tender the contracts for these services was an open contestable tender process.

"The evaluation panel deciding on the tender comprised six members - three internal ministry staff and three external evaluators from the Department of Internal Affairs, the Health Promotion Agency and a Pacific health consultant.

"The ministry also asked Pricewaterhouse to independently review the procurement process and this confirmed the ministry's processes followed accepted good practice."

Bartling said the ministry was meeting with all affected groups over the coming weeks to discuss the decision.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne refuted the claims from Labour and the Greens.

"This review had been on the cards for some years prior to this, as the development of the sector has to a large extent been undertaken in an ad hoc manner, with duplication of services from national providers simply not achieving best value for money that clients of services are entitled to expect, " he said.

It was proposed that the major national provider would be the Salvation Army's Oasis service, which already provided gambling harm counselling and other addiction and social services across the country.

"I am aware that the Salvation Army has been critical of the Government in certain areas over the years, including the SkyCity convention centre, but I see no reason why this should prevent them from being contracted to provide the excellent services that they do."

Dunne said that "just because they [the foundation] have problem gambling in their title, doesn't mean they become the default provider".

A Health Ministry spokesman said the contract given to the Salvation Army for services was largely worth the same amount of funding previously given to the foundation.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey, in an email to "friends and stakeholders", confirmed the funding had been pulled for all services except Asian Family Services.

"The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand has been informed by the Ministry of Health that our proposal for a new contract has been declined, apart from Asian Family Services," he said.

"This will have a significant impact on our organisation but we will ensure our service to clients continues until the end of our existing contract. This finishes at the end of June.

"We thank you for your support of PGF and will keep you informed of further developments as we work through this process and plan our future," Ramsey said.

Green Party MP Denise Roche said the Government needed to "urgently reconsider" it's funding.

"The Government cut to funding for the Problem Gambling Foundation must be seen as payback for its opposition to the SkyCity deal," Roche said.

"The decision to cut its funding seems to be motivated by the fact that the Problem Gambling Foundation is actually doing its job too well.

"The Problem Gambling Foundation is a highly visible and effective organisation that has hosted several successful international conventions, and has been the strongest voice promoting host responsibility and preventing gambling harm."

Roche said she wasn't surprised the Salvation Army received the contract, but said the difference was they weren't receiving government funding in the area of reducing gambling harm at the time it voiced it's own opposition to the Skycity deal.

"If an organisation has to reduce it's ability to advocate in fear of losing their funding then we're losing democracy," Roche said.

"And that's why a lot of smaller organisations don't speak out. The Salvation Army was able to talk about their opposition to the casino extension because they weren't as heavily reliant on government funding."

She questioned whether the Salvation Army had the same capabilities as the Problem Gambling Foundation.

Bartling said the ministry was confident people experiencing gambling harm, "as a result of their own or someone else's gambling" would be able to continue to access regional and national services and assistance.

"The changes are planned to result in a significant increase in front-line fulltime staff for the same level of investment," he said.

The Salvation Army will take over the contract from July 1.