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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord):
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford
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(Jonathan Shaw) wants to seek to catch my eye, and perhaps he ought to make those points if and when he does.
Mr. Fallon: I should be happy if the hon. Gentleman can refresh my memory about which £1 million he was referring to. I think that I can now recall the £1 million. I think that it was the capital grant in respect of Riverhead school. I do not know whether he can confirm that. I think that the long delay in getting a decision on the siting of Riverhead infant school cost £1 million. Yes, I complain about bureaucratic delays, and I am sure that he complains about them, too.
I return to the point that I was making about infrastructure before I was interrupted. It is striking that in regions such as the north-west, part of which the Minister represents, it is almost impossible to go from one town to another without travelling on some sort of motorwaythe M60 or whatever. We in west Kent still seem to have much of the infrastructure that was placed there in the 1920s or the 1930sfor example, the single-carriageway A21, along which my constituents must travel if they want to go to Pembury hospital or further south. The railway system is still essentially unmodernised from many years back.
I still feel that we do not get our fair share of the necessary capital infrastructure that our region needs. It is an important region. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet spoke of the beauty of Kent and the attractiveness of our county, but it is also a key part of the economic region. It is one of the wealth-creating areas of our country. I do not think that we yet get the attention from Ministers that we and our constituents deserve.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells on securing this debate on local government funding. We do not get our fair allocation of funding, and improvements to the system can be made. There is a general perception that Kent is losing out compared with the rest of the country, and I am sure that the Minister will do his best to correct that when he replies.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on securing it. He made an excellent thought-provoking contribution and I am sure that it will read well in the royal spa town, which I know well.
I was born in the county of Kent and have lived there all my life. I have worked in most of the different parts of the county, so I hope that I can add something to the debate. I want to say something about the other side of the complaints that we have heard from Conservative Members. Several of the Conservative Members in the Chamber will remember a debate that was held in February 1997 when they attacked the county council and went on about its various visits and trips abroad. That was a disgraceful assault on a local authority that could not defend itself. There were no Labour Kent Members at the time. I have read the transcript of that debate and wonder if the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) remembers complaining about money being cut from his children's school.
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Mr. Brazier: In that particular year, Kent county council spent £5 million on computer equipment and furniture for the education department's offices. The computer equipment did not result in any job savings and administrative manpower continued to increase. Although £5 million was spent on furnishings and equipment for offices, there were classrooms without enough chairs in them.
Jonathan Shaw: That was the first time that Kent's local authority had spent more than its standard spending assessment. In the years during which I went to schools in Kent, it spent consistently much less than its SSA.
I am delighted to talk about schools in Kent. They were underfunded for years, and it was not until the administration of 1993 to 1997 that they started getting resources. Let me address the area of my constituency and that of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who is in the Chamber. He knows that in our area, the Malling school, Aylesford school and Holmesdale technology college are being rebuilt at a cost of about £50 million. The total amount of private finance initiative money in Kent is about £80 million. Aylesford school, which the right hon. Gentleman knows well, is a series of huts. There was no prospect of getting that school refurbished to a modern standard with the levels of capital spend present under the Conservative Government.
Sir John Stanley: The hon. Gentleman must do his homework. Aylesford school received a substantial capital grant from the Conservative Government because it was one of the first schools to achieve grant-maintained status. It received major investment from the Conservative Government.
Jonathan Shaw: I am well aware of the building. Grant-maintained status gave a little bit to a few schools, but there was little hope of the school getting the real refurbishment that it needed. When we got into office, the Tory Government had been spending £800 million a year on school buildings. That is quite a lot of money when one thinks about it, but not when one considers that that figure is £5.6 billion this year. Such funding means not that there is just one small capital project in Aylesford school, but that the whole school can be rebuilt. The contrast is stark. Money is being spent on schools throughout the county. There are now more teachers and classroom assistants in Kent and they are better paid than before.
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) talked about the police service and leakage to the Metropolitan police. Such things occur from time to time, but the Government responded positively to that situation. They got little thanks for that, just as there was little thanks for the £1 million for the hon. Gentleman's school at Riverhead. The Government gave that money and that has happened time and again throughout the whole county.
The hon. Gentleman might say that, but the three secondary schools in my borough that are being rebuilt now are not a figment of my imagination.
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There was never any money available for such rebuilding under the Conservative Government, so I certainly will come on and tell him how much money is being spent in Kent.
Mr. Gale: I did not want to intervene because I spoke at great length. Nevertheless, the "Come on" related to the police. The hon. Gentleman knows that Kent police are in dire financial straits. He knows that Thanet and Canterbury have lost policemen to the Medway towns to make up for those who are going into the Met. He knows that there are no special constables in parts of the county because they have been taken into the regular force to make up the numbers that we have lost to London.
Jonathan Shaw: Kent police have more constables than ever before. The Medway police force is at full strength. It has not been before. The decision to allocate police officers is not for politicians but an operational matter for the chief constable. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it should not be, let him say so. We have more than 100 police community support officers. The chief constable supports that. The hon. Gentleman knows that the chief constable will bid for a further 500 over the next two years. We have investment in our health service. Kent was one of the first counties to meet the three-month target for cataract operations. That is what is happening in our hospitals, schools and police service. Each service is increasing and each is in a better shape than it was when we got into power in 1997.
"Kent has emerged as the biggest winner in a Government cash handout to local authorities to help them develop schemes to improve traffic blackspots, invest in public transport schemes and make roads safer.
Greg Clark: I was not in the House in 1997, but the hon. Gentleman was. Does he recall that the A21, between Tonbridge and Lamberhurst, was scheduled for imminent conversion to a dual carriageway? That project was cancelled within months of this Government coming into power.
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