PGF loses contract to Salvation Army

The Herald reports:

Government funding for the Problem Gambling Foundation has been scrapped, the organisation confirmed today amid rumours the service would be shut-down because it opposes National’s SkyCity convention centre deal.

The foundation issued a statement saying it had been informed by the Ministry of Health that from June 30 it would no longer be contracted for the bulk of its current services.

“While the ministry describes PGF as a valued provider of quality services it has told PGF it has a superior offer for the clinical and public health services PGF provides,” the foundation said.

The announcement came after Labour MP Trevor Mallard said he believed the foundation would be axed due to its stance against the SkyCity convention centre deal.

The PGF had “made themselves particularly unpopular with the Government and with the Ministry of Health”, Mr Mallard said last night.

First of all, the decision was not made by Government Ministers, but by the Ministry of Health. They are not reducing the amount they spend on helping problem gamblers – just another organisation or organisations put in a better bid for the funds. If more problem gamblers will be successfully assisted, this is a good thing.

The PGF seems to spend much of its times as a taxpayer funded lobby group, rather than actually helping problem gamblers. It is constitutionally outrageous for groups to be provided with taxpayer dollars so they can then lobby MPs and media on what they think government policy should be.

I’m all for lobby groups advocating for the views of their members. But lobby groups should be funded by their members and supporters, not by the taxpayers.

I support the taxpayer funding public health groups that mainly focus on assistance, not politics. Hence I support taxpayer funding of Quitline, but not of ASH (a lobby group). For gambling I support funding of organisations such as the Salvation Army that provide great assistance to problem gamblers. The Problem Gambling Foundation however spends a great proportion of its time on lobbying and media activity. Their website is all about how to get involved with campaigns to local councils or setting up local action groups. All fine activities, so long as the taxpayer isn’t paying for them – which we have been.

There is a line between groups that do occasional advocacy on issues of importance to them and groups mainly focused on advocacy. Again, the Salvation Army often submit on issues of gambling, alcohol etc. But they don’t make it the major focus of what they do. The Problem Gambling Foundation thought its role was more to lobby for policy it likes, than to provide support services for problem gamblers. Hence it is little surprise that another support group make a stronger case to the Ministry of Health that it would provide better services to problem gamblers than the Problem Gambling Foundation.

UPDATE: The organisation that has won the funding bid is the Salvation Army:

“The Ministry of Health has said it has received a ‘superior contract bid’ but as the foundation is the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia, it is hard to imagine a more qualified organisation to do this work.”

However, a spokesman from Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne’s office confirmed today that the other organisation was the Salvation Army.

The spokesman said the Salvation Army bid for the contract was more efficient, and offered more services and value for money.

Now the Salvation Army also opposed the Sky City deal, so suggesting the change in provider is because of the PGF’s opposition is misplaced. Basically they put in a better bid. I’m not surprised it was a better bid, because their primary focus is on helping problem gamblers, not lobbying. I understand the Ministry’s decision that the Salvation Army had the better bid was independently reviewed by PWC.

UPDATE2: Also worth thinking about how the PGF has reacted to the news they lost the tender. They immediately contact Trevor Mallard (no doubt through their public health manager who is a Labour Party candidate) and claim it was due to their opposition to Sky City. There are dozens of organisations out there who lose tenders when better bids are put in. Most don’t go running to Trevor Mallard to try and turn it into a political story. The fact they did so, shows how deeply political they had become.

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