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Whittingdale new culture secretary in reshuffle

12 May 2015

VETERAN Conservative MP John Whittingdale was made culture secretary yesterday, taking overall responsibility for matters affecting the department for culture, media and sport’s interests in horseracing and betting. He replaces Sajid Javid, who was promoted to secretary of state for business in prime minister David Cameron’s reshuffle. 

Whittingdale, 55, whose responsibilities could include determining the levy scheme should racing and betting fail to reach agreement this autumn, has had two spells as shadow culture secretary, as well as being chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee for ten years. He has shown himself to be sympathetic to the betting industry in the past. In a parliamentary debate in January last year Whittingdale said: “Betting shops are not a blight on the high street. They are regulated and controlled environments that provide employment and, in some cases, a social benefit.” And during the row between on-course bookmakers and t he Racecourse Association over betting-list positions and pitch tenure, he said he had been completely persuaded by the bookmakers’ case. 

A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said the body was looking forward to working with the new minister on the responsible gambling agenda. However, there was no news yesterday evening on whether Helen Grant, who racing has thanked for her support of the horserace betting right, had kept her position as sports minister. Matthew Hancock, whose West Suffolk constituency contains Newmarket and who has been a staunch supporter of racing’s call for the levy to be replaced by the betting right, moves from the business department to become cabinet office minister and paymaster general, while Epsom’s MP Chris Grayling is the new leader of the commons. 

The sport will have another supporter in the cabinet with the news that Priti Patel, who lists horseracing among her interests, has been promoted to minister for employment from exchequer secretary to the treasury. With Eric Pickles leaving his position as communities secretary, Greg Clark now has responsibility for planning issues affecting betting shops, as well as having the final say on the controversial Hatchfield Farm development in Newmarket.

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