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Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I congratulate my hon. Friend on rattling the cage of Conservative Members from Kent. Facing defeat, rather like a hanging, concentrates the mind. They come here protesting their innocence, but they have presided over real cuts in services in Kent and throughout the south-east of England.

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I am the only Labour Member of Parliament outside Greater London representing a seat in the south-east: I represent 13 million people today.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: My hon. Friend puts his point most forcefully, as ever.

Mr. David Shaw rose--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I am not prepared to give way. The hon. Gentleman's party has had more than its share of the debate.

The £100 million figure to which several hon. Members have referred, and which has been much trumpeted in the press in Kent, has been portrayed by Conservative Members as the "demand" of the county council--but it is no such thing at all. The leaders of Kent county council are realists. They would not expect such a sum to be made available, especially from the Government--[Interruption.] Do I need to repeat that for the benefit of Conservative Members, in case they have had trouble hearing what I said?

Mr. Shaw: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very concerned about whether the relevant papers are available in the Vote Office showing that Kent has had the largest SSA increase of any shire county in the United Kingdom. It is important that those papers should be available in the Vote Office, so that Opposition Members can talk about the truth.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): I am quite sure that the papers are available.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Let us return to the famous £100 million, which the hon. Member for Mid-Kent was on about yesterday. For Kent county council, that sum is an honest and, so far, unchallenged estimate of what would be required to protect all existing services, to meet inescapable financial commitments, to meet pay and price increases and to provide for demographic changes and the cost of new responsibilities placed on local authorities by central Government. That is the explanation for which Conservative Members have been waiting.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): Does the hon. Gentleman realise that I have received figures from the co-chairperson of the social services committee in Kent, showing that extra statutory duties imposed on Kent--but not properly funded--by the Government amount to more than £4 million? That figure takes into account the extra costs incurred because of a 2.5 per cent. increase in the number of people aged over 75 and because of disabled access, asylum and criminal justice legislation, which have not been properly reflected in grant levels.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Those matters do not surprise me. What does surprise me is that, over the past few years, they have never been drawn to Parliament's attention by Conservative Members. At no stage have they raised those issues.

If there is one body that is unrealistic, it is the Government--who continually impose additional responsibilities on local authorities without providing

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funding, and then demand cuts. In the famous £100 million, Kent is simply flagging up, in plain language, the implications of Government cuts.

Briefly, Kent's £100 million estimate is composed of £40 million of financing pressures; a £25 million estimate of pay and price increases, which makes provision only for unavoidable price increases; £30 million for service pressures, which is led by demographic and legislative demand; and £5 million for redundancy costs forced on it by the financial settlement and by local government reorganisation. None of those costs is within the control of the county council. Most of the sum results from Government action and from decisions of the previous Conservative county council. To try to meet those pressures and remain within the £22 million capping limit increase, the county council is being forced to make extremely painful choices between services.

Initially, the council's policy and resources committee asked committees to consider savings of 10.7 per cent. in all budgets. To protect the most vulnerable, special educational needs were exempted, and increases made. Unfortunately, however, to balance the budget, that meant that extra cuts--more than 10.7 per cent.--were necessary in adult education and youth and community services.

Current figures are likely to be 1 per cent. for fire services and 9.5 per cent. for social services--[Interruption.] Those are matters of which Conservative Members should be aware. It may well be that, today, I bring them news from Kent. They have not been following developments in their own local authority.

Mr. Jacques Arnold rose--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The likely figures are 9.5 per cent. for social services and 7.2 per cent. for the non-delegated education budget. Those figures should enable the council to avoid closure of its adult education service, its youth and community service and its residential homes. They would also avoid reducing fire cover below minimum standards, although the budget will still require the closure of five retained fire stations and the removal of four retained engines from other stations. However, even that has been made possible only by not fully protecting school budgets from the effects of higher numbers and increased costs. Schools will face a real-terms reduction of 4 per cent.

Kent's services still face horrendous cuts, and all the councillors know it. However, they know who to blame: they blame the Government. Conservative Members from Kent try to pretend that the cuts are the fault of the county council, yet none of the pressures that the council faces is of its own making. They are the result of Government decisions or, in some cases, the legacy of Conservative control.

Many of the decisions stem from legislation pushed through Parliament by Conservative Whips. Kent's Conservative Members have never rebelled. They have always supported piling on the pressure. Those poodles have lain on their backs and obediently allowed their constituents to take the punishment meted out by an insensitive Government.

Dame Peggy Fenner: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the hon. Member for Workington

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(Mr. Campbell-Savours) would not wish to malign me. I am a Kent Member, and have been, with a very short break, since 1970. Would the hon. Gentleman care to repeat the point that Kent Members have never rebelled? Was he in the House when the Government of the day--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. However, the hon. Lady has made her point.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: As you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was not a point of order. It was also not an accepted intervention, or I would have produced material showing that, on many hundreds of occasions in recent years, the hon. Lady has obediently trooped into Conservative Lobbies to support legislation and financial measures that have damaged the interests of the people of Kent.

Mr. Thurnham: The hon. Gentleman and I are adding a Cumbrian element--from the other end of the country--to this debate, and are perhaps adding a degree of realism. Does he agree that it is unfortunate when the Government prevent a local authority from innovating? Are not community care direct payments a case in which local authorities have been prevented from extending benefits to those over 65? Has not the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) strongly advanced that case? I am sure that he would share the disappointment of Opposition Members that the Government have prevented such an excellent measure from being used by Kent council and others to provide benefits to over-65s.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I defer to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge in those matters, as he is an expert in many issues of community care. It may well be that some Conservative Members from Kent have on occasion raised those issues in the House; but the critical question is how they have voted when Parliament has allocated money for those types of expenditure. The truth is that the people of Kent are being taken for granted by those who are supposed to be representing their interests in Westminster.

Claims that Kent county council is inefficient and badly run--which we have heard before, from the hon. Member for Mid-Kent--are ludicrous. Price Waterhouse, the independent auditor whom the hon. Gentleman quoted, said exactly the opposite. It said in its report:


hold your breath--


    "£23m . . . over 3 years and cut budgets of its central departments by 13.5 per cent. It is continuing such savings in 97/98 but these cannot cover the shortfall."

Local Conservatives say that no cuts are necessary, so why have they ducked Labour county councillors' challenge to submit an alternative budget? Perhaps the Minister will tell us why today.

Conservative Members of Parliament have attacked the county council for failing to increase education spending by the increase in the SSA. The House knows that the Government's claim to be providing extra money for education was a fraud. It was described in the Local Government Chronicle as a budget scam, because the resources were not made available.

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In Kent, the education SSA increased by £20.4 million. If the whole SSA increase had been passported to education, the effect on other services would have been devastating. To meet its share of financing commitments, pay rises and unavoidable service pressures, the council would have had to make savings of 16 per cent. If social services had been exempted, cuts would have been 27 per cent., which would have meant the end of effective services in many areas.

Since taking over the administration of the council, the present controlling groups have increased resources for education, social services and other vital services by far more than the increases in the SSA. They have done so in spite of tight budgets and the appalling backlog of neglect that they inherited in, for example, school building repairs. Throughout this time, they have been subject to sniping attacks from Conservative Members who are more concerned with making cheap political capital than with defending the services on which their constituents depend.

While other local authorities have seen their Members of Parliament fighting for them, Kent has seen its Conservative Members of Parliament campaign against the county council and encourage the Government to inflict still harsher treatment on local services. It is interesting to note that these Members of Parliament never attacked the extravagance of the former Conservative administration in Kent--not a single Conservative Member uttered a word of protest when the former Conservative-controlled county council decided in 1991 to spend £7 million on the county hall. There was a wall of silence at Westminster. Perhaps we shall have an explanation of that when the Under-Secretary winds up the debate.

If Kent county council this year faces bigger cuts than some other authorities, it is for one reason alone--it refused to cut services and jobs last year as the Conservatives urged. The council used every resource at its disposal to protect public services for as long as possible, and it should be congratulated, not condemned. I certainly congratulate it.

The people of Kent are not deceived by the propaganda campaign of their Conservative Members of Parliament. In a recent telephone poll, readers of the Kent Messenger voted four to one on the statement that Kent's cuts were the fault of central Government. No amount of propaganda or misleading attacks on Labour and Liberal councillors for alleged extravagant spending can disguise the simple truth. Conservative Members of Parliaments are prepared to use Kent county council as a political football to be kicked around the Chamber in a squalid attempt to pick up votes. As a Member of Parliament, I have always rejected that approach--[Interruption.] Let me be tested by my words. I have always operated by the simple maxim that knocking one's local council is cheap and easy copy.

My constituency is in Cumbria. During my 17 years at Westminster, both my district and my county council have for periods been Conservative-controlled, but I have never attacked them at Westminster. For me, that is forbidden fruit, because they cannot answer back. Sadly, that is not the practice in Kent.


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