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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would address the Chair rather than the Doors at the end of the Chamber.

Mr. Dunn: Your glow is so strong that I dare not look at you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--but I shall from now on.

The announcement that I have just made will be welcome news for Kent residents.

I shall now revert to Kent's budgetary position. I have a copy of a confidential memorandum--

Ms Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham): From Conservative central office.

Mr. Dunn: It was sent to all Liberal Democrat members. The hereditary Member should keep her mouth shut and learn to listen.

I have a copy of the confidential memorandum sent to Liberal Democrat members which contains what is, for them, an honest statement. It states:

Mr. Couchman: I shall not take long, because my hon. Friend has much to say. That interesting document, of which we have copies, also makes it clear that the current state of Kent's roads maintenance is due to the present regime's neglect. The council wants to spend money on other things, such as twinning with Hungary or trips for the councillor who represents Dover.

Mr. Dunn: Exactly so--my hon. Friend anticipates a later part of my speech. The realism that suddenly swept through the Liberal Democrat group was a bursting of new flame. It recognised that it has, by its decisions, contributed to the present financial situation of Kent county council. Given that rare burst of political honesty, why are the Liberal Democrats so committed to cutting front-line services, instead of reducing bureaucracy and administration? Why are they frenetic in their desire to establish new committees, new forums and new talking shops, and why do they indulge in a wide range of non-core activities?

In an excellent article in Kent Today by Paul Francis, we are told that Kent county councillors are considering awarding themselves extra expenses to pay for babysitters. I am informed that the Labour co-chairman of the economic development sub-committee went on 14 trips overseas between 20 April 1994 and 6 to 7 June 1996. [Hon. Members: "Name him."] I gather that his name is Mr. Prosser, and that he is the parliamentary Labour candidate for Dover.

What were those trips for? The answer that is usually given is that they were in pursuit of European Community grants. My geography was learned a long time ago, but as I recall, Philadelphia is not in the European Union and, at the time when the trips were made, neither was Hungary. Constituents who run voluntary organisations to help the handicapped tell me that they have lost £1,000 in grant,

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which was the only grant that they received from Kent county council. How can those trips be justified, when any one of them was worth at least £1,000 in grant to a voluntary organisation in my constituency?

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that very point?

Mr. Dunn: I shall not give way.

The money for those trips--however important they may turn out to be--could have been given to voluntary organisations in Dartford, Swanscombe or any other community in Kent, and would have been warmly welcomed by voluntary workers and carers.

The main thrust of Kent's socialist coalition's argument is that the council faces a £79 million Government cut in funding. The House knows that Kent's funding was not cut; it received a 2 per cent. increase of £22 million. That is hardly a cut, yet the council comes up with the figure of £79 million as the amount that has allegedly been cut. How come? It is simply explained, though deceitful in origin.

The county council wants to spend an extra £101 million. It announced that it needs an extra £101 million to fund its wish list.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): More foreign trips.

Mr. Dunn: That may well be. The Government announced an increase of £22 million--which everyone recognises is a fair settlement--thus leaving Kent county council to claim a shortfall of £79 million. By black art spin-doctoring, it converted its wish list into Government cuts. How deceitful, dishonest and cruel.

Mr. Couchman: I believe that my hon. Friend has done some research into what other counties propose for the forthcoming year. Can he name another county that has proposed such deep cuts as Kent is proposing?

Mr. Dunn: On the evidence available to me, Kent's behaviour is worse, in that it has failed to cut bureaucracy and administration and to honour its commitment to maintaining front-line services.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Does my hon. Friend recall that, just two years ago, we had the spectacle of £4.5 million being taken out of the schools budget when some schools, such as my children's primary school in Kent, were short of chairs? In that very same year, the council spent £3.5 million on fixtures and fittings for education administration offices.

Mr. Dunn: The list is endless. One of my favourite items of Kent county council expenditure is the £700,000 it spends each year on magazines and periodicals for the use of administrative officers.

I shall return to my point about the alleged £79 million cut. The House will appreciate that the council cannot cut what it never had: it was always speculation and deception. Kent county council's plan to spend 10 per cent. more flies in the face of political reality. No Government in the western world, local or national, are planning a 10 per cent. spending increase.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): It is my perception that, of all the counties in the country, Kent has the largest

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percentage of grant-maintained schools--schools taken out of the local education authority. Can my hon. Friend assure me that county council administration has been cut pro rata to take account of that extraordinary devolution?

Mr. Dunn: No, I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance, because it is not there to give. The council has lost control of many services, but it has failed to cut bureaucracy. Administration has increased in the past four years, rather than reduced to reflect the position to which my hon. Friend referred.

Sir Roger Moate (Faversham): In my constituency, we are faced with the prospect of the closure of fire stations, dramatic cuts in library services, cuts in desperately important youth services and a dramatic cut in adult education. Severe pain is being inflicted on the people who need those services, whereas administration is not being cut. The county council has lost control of administration of the police and further education colleges, and secondary schools administration has been reduced by 50 per cent. Why should my constituents be faced with cuts when no comparable effort has been made by the county council to cut bureaucracy and administration?

Mr. Dunn: My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, and he is right.

What I find most disconcerting about this sorry episode in the history of our county is the failure of the parties that control Kent's destiny to be honest. I dislike the deception that is being practised. In recent weeks, we have seen the use of the county's propaganda machine for party political purposes.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): What does that cost?

Mr. Dunn: I dare say we shall find that out in the fulness of time.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose--

Mr. Dunn: What the authority's officials are doing is quite wrong. I have a letter from a constituent: he is a resident of Dartford, to whom I wrote on 23 January. He says:

Mr. Gale: Is it not a fact that the lie machine at county hall has been so misrepresenting the facts that Mr. Keith Ferrin, one of our Conservative colleagues on the county council, found it necessary to write to Conservative candidates and sitting Members to ask whether they could please try to explain to the press that the situation is

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actually a result of the county council's mismanagement rather than a Government cut--something that the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) will, I suspect, try to produce like a rabbit out of a hat later today? Is it not also a fact that the same team sought to rig the Kent Today opinion poll? Is not that yet another example of its members trying to rig the facts?

Mr. Dunn: My experience as a long-serving Member of Parliament has shown me that the Labour party and the truth have long been strangers.

I am very grateful to Keith Ferrin, who is a well-respected member of the county council, for the information that every household's share of Kent county council's debt has risen by £216.89, to the massive sum of £762.83. We should get that message across.

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