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That the Plant Breeder's Rights (Discontinuation of Prior Use Exemption) Order 2005 (S.I., 2005, No. 2726) dated 3rd October 2005 and the Supply of Relevant Veterinary Medicinal Products Order 2005 (S.I., 2005, No. 2751), dated 4th October 2005, be referred to Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation.[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the subject of local government finance in Kent. I am grateful to the Minister of State for being here at the end of what has been a busy week for all of us, and to my hon. Friends for joining me for this important discussion. I do not intend to use this opportunity to excoriate the Government to make us all feel better. Instead, I want to take the opportunity to make some serious points, and to invite the Minister to reflect further on some of the pressures that my and my hon. Friends' constituents face when the budget settlement, on which Ministers are consulting, is finalised.
People get the wrong idea about Kent. Because it is close to London, in the south-east of England and has beautiful countryside and historic towns and cities, such as the one that I am proud to represent, they assume that we are universally affluent, with no social or economic problems or real worries. That is far from the case, however. Even Tunbridge Wells has some areas where deprivation is as extreme as in other places that are more renowned for their levels of social deprivation. A charity in my constituency that does fantastic work in one of the most deprived areas of the county has even had to take the name Tunbridge Wells off its letterhead, because its experience was that when looking for donors and applying for grants, people turned a blind eye and assumed that there was no possible need to help the poor and vulnerable in Tunbridge Wells. That is not the case.
Kent is more surprising than many in the outside world realise. In terms of deprivation, for example, 12 per cent. of Kent constituents are wholly dependent on benefitsa massive figure. Kent has 5.6 per cent. of all the looked-after children in the country, which is twice the national average. It is important that we give the best possible service to those young people.
Far from being an area in which proximity to Europe and London has resulted in jobs galore with high productivity and salaries, we lag behind in knowledge work. For example, only 13 per cent. of people in Kent are employed in the knowledge industriesonly just over half the level in south-east England as a whole, which is 24 per cent. Areas of deprivation are therefore scattered across the county.
The case that I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends want to make to the Minister is not one of special party political pleading, but for a review of the situation in Kent. As the Minister considers the funding settlement, I want to commend such a review to him for five reasons.
First, deprivation and trends in deprivation in Kent should be considered. Sadly, deprivation in Kent is deteriorating compared with other parts of the country. Between 1991 and 2001, on all the key indices of deprivation, it has shown a marked decline. In Kent, the number of pupils in the areas of greatest deprivation is increasing, which is the opposite of the pattern across the country whereby growth in pupil numbers tends to be in the more prosperous areas. No doubt there are various reasons for that, but it is a fact. Because there is
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a uniformity of decline in socio-economic indicators, it is particularly important that Government funding keeps up with the facts.
We know the indices of deprivation. They are very clear in the 2001 census, and yet the Government persist in allocating funds not on the basis of that census, which is already nearly five years old, but on the basis of the 1991 census, which is almost a generation out of date. People in my constituency, especially young people, should be given their fair shareno more than that. If the Government persist in using the 1991 census, a whole generation will have passed their lives as children without the care and support that they might expect if the Government were up to date.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that given the level of deprivation to which he has referred, it is unjustifiable that whereas when the Government came to office Kent council tax payers were contributing a quarter of local government expenditure, eight years later they are being asked to shoulder more than a third? Is that not grossly unfair to them?
Greg Clark: I agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes his point with characteristic force. The position is particularly unjust in view of the fact that the statistics relating to Kent match those relating to other areas that have been treated more generously. My constituents, and those of my right hon. Friend, feel let down by the Government.
The second factor is our ageing population. As we know, the population throughout the country is ageing, but in Kent that is happening with particular force. In the next 15 years, there will be 56 per cent. more people over 85 living in Kent. We know the reasons for that. People have always moved out of London to the home counties, especially to seaside resorts, to retire. A problem that affects the country as a whole affects Kent particularly severely. Yet again, however, the funding formula does not afford my constituents and Kent county council the fairness that has applied to other parts of the country. The average payment for an elderly person in the London boroughs is over £1,600 a week; the figure in Kent is £630. That is a massive difference, which cannot be explained by the cost of accommodation and services. Paradoxically, we in Kent are given much less money with which to look after our elderly people although wage pressures and property costs are as high as in other parts of the south-east.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, but the position is even worse than that. Many elderly people from London are in Kentish homes. Absurdly, there may be two elderly people side by side, one of whom is receiving more than twice as much Government funding as the other although they are in nursing or residential homes at the same cost.
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