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Jonathan Shaw: There was a long list of road proposals at the time, but the money had never been allocated to them. One of them was the M20 widening, which caused so much blight in my constituency and that of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The Chancellor in 1996 admitted that there were no resources for those projects, and they did not go forward. A Government can have a list as long as their arm, but they must have the funding for those roads. Otherwise, they are deceiving constituents. We have done well on infrastructure.
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Again, in my area, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling campaigned for many years to get a special surface put on the M20. It would have cost millions, and the Conservative Government refused every time. Their policy was that it was not possible to have quieter road surfaces unless it was a new road or it was being widened, but our council, with his support, managed to get them to change that policy. We got the quieter surface, which helped our constituents. That is another road improvement that has assisted our constituents.

Mr. Brazier: I merely wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is listening to what he says. In the period that I was in the House before he was—those years of Conservative Government immediately beforehand—the extra sections on the M20 were built. During that time, huge investment was committed to the Thanet way, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and I enjoy. It was completed shortly after Labour came into office, but the bulk of the building was done under the Conservatives, when the money was committed to it. Since Labour came into office, I cannot think of even a bypass that has been built in Kent—and the hon. Gentleman talks about resurfacing.

Jonathan Shaw: I am sorry to keep picking on the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The Leybourne bypass is being constructed as we speak. Many road and infrastructure projects have occurred in that period. I told the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) the amount of money that Kent county council has received. That was only to tackle road congestion and public transport. There is also the £70 million that the council received. It said in its press statement that it got more than anyone else in the country. On roads, public transport, schools, police and hospitals, what we heard from Conservative Members was that Kent has not been getting its fair share whereas that simply is not the case.

I look round my constituency and see the investment that has taken place, such as new £2 million health centres in Snodland and in Larkfield. That money is being invested in our communities and making a huge difference to the quality of life of the people whom we represent.

Sir John Stanley: The hon. Gentleman's comments on hospitals will be read with disbelief by my constituents and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would explain to the House why the important new district hospital for Pembury, covering the whole west Kent area, which was at an advanced stage at the end of the term of the previous Conservative Government, is still no further on in terms of starting construction, eight years later.

Jonathan Shaw: I know the Kent and Sussex hospital very well. I used to take adults with learning disabilities when they sadly had accidents to the hospital when I worked in that area. The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong when he talks about an advanced stage. The site had not been purchased and the money had not been allocated. What does he mean by
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"advanced stage"? There was no provider and plans had not been worked up. It was not at an advanced stage. It was a pipe dream. It took a Labour Government to allocate resources. We have the largest hospital building programme in the history of the NHS. There has been investment in the Maidstone hospital, the Medway maritime hospital and other hospitals throughout the county.

Waiting lists have been mentioned. People had to wait for 18 months when Labour was elected to office. This year, it is will be down to six months. The waiting will continue to come down. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like this, but my constituents have seen the investment put in to my constituency and the huge difference that it has made to their lives. Despite the disgraceful attack upon a local authority that could not defend itself in February 1997, the infrastructure, resources and public services of the county are in a much better state now. I know because I worked in Kent for 10 years and I have lived in it for all my life. Public services are in much better shape now. I and my hon. Friends throughout the county are proud of that.

5.44 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I have been listening with interest to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw). I intended to be brief but the hon. Gentleman has provoked me to speak at slightly greater length than I intended.

The distinction should be made very clear between current and capital spending. I shall comment on what the hon. Gentleman said about capital spending. About 95 per cent. of the examples that he gave involved capital expenditure whereas the basic submission of my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), apart from the remarks that he made at the end of his contribution, related almost entirely to the problems in current spending. Yes, there are some problems of infrastructure and I shall start by saying something about that, but the main issue is the ever-tightening garrotte on the level of current spending—rate support grant—available to Kent county council for people in old people's homes, children in care and so on.

On the capital side, the hon. Gentleman really must find out about Kent's road programme. The last Government invested a fortune in Kent's roads—the building of the extra sections of the M20 for the link-up with the channel tunnel, the dualling of the Thanet Way, in which my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet played such a vital role over all those years, and which was finished about 18 months after the present Government took office, and the dualling of the A2 extension of the M2. There was one programme after another, all carried out by the Conservative Government. Under the present Government, there has been virtually no capital expenditure, apart from the odd tiny bypass in the road programme, and money available for road repairs has declined.

There are other areas that I could challenge. I shall mention one on the capital side. The hon. Gentleman made great play of investment in the NHS. Certainly, a great deal of money has been invested in new hospitals in other parts of the country, but it is in east Kent that there were two and three-day queues in casualty, after the Government took office. There was a two-page
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spread in The Sun about people who spent three days on beds in the Kent and Canterbury hospital accident and emergency unit. That happened on the present Government's watch, not under the previous Government.

The burden of the debate and almost the whole of the submission from my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) was on current spending and the tourniquet that the Government are applying to the support grant for current spending in the county of Kent. I remember arguing once with a group of people in the Tea Room—I have some friends in the Labour party, and I count the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford as one of them—about whether it is worse to be poor in an area neighbouring better-off areas or to be poor in a poor area. The answer must be that it is much worse to be poor in south-east England than in a relatively deprived area, for several obvious reasons. One is that it is much more expensive to provide support for poor people in an area with neighbouring better-off areas, because it is a struggle to attract well-qualified people into the public services there. Another reason is that food and other basic amenities are more expensive near a better-off area.

In east Kent we have a particular problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet said, in parts of east Kent and one or two other parts of Kent we have some of the worst deprivation statistics anywhere in southern England. In some wards in Thanet, the statistics are among the worst in the country. However, the fact that we are relatively close to the capital means that we have serious additional problems. Against that background, the dire figures take some explaining.

I will not go through the equation on the funding of the elderly, which my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells so effectively covered. I shall take the parallel equation for children in care. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet is right about the dumping of children in care in Kent, without the associated money always coming with them in knock-on areas such as education and health. Putting that to one side, how can it be right that a child in care in Kent gets from the Government £263 a week, compared with £425 in Blackpool, an area in the north of England where costs are lower, and £1,373 in a London borough such as Islington?

Hon. Members will know that over the years I have taken a particular interest in children in care, particularly through my role in the all-party group on adoption and fostering. I am horrified at what is happening to our local social services as a result of the squeeze on funding. I shall give an example. It is no good talking about shiny new buildings and the rest of it; we are talking about current money to cover current costs. One of the effects is that almost no provision is left for the most awkward fostering cases. In the old days, special placements would have been provided, because it was acknowledged that those cases were simply too difficult for most foster parents to cope with. The money is no longer available for that. I spoke recently to foster parents who told me that several of their colleagues had given up fostering because children had been placed with them with whom they were simply incapable of dealing.
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I am obviously pursuing the matter with Kent county council social services, but the system is creaking. How can it be right that an area where costs are high gets one sixth of the funding per child of some London boroughs? Those figures are not fiction. They are in a letter that is signed by Sandy Bruce-Lockhart. It is the last letter that Sir Sandy wrote before he retired as leader of a council that everybody, from the district auditor to the people who recommended him to Her Majesty the Queen for his recent knighthood, recognises as excellent. The figures are his, not mine.

I hope that some of our constituents will read the debate. When the Minister for Local Government replies, he can score some points about shiny new buildings and infrastructure. In making points about infrastructure, he can forget that Kent has been chosen for two of the four population growth points, and all the additional requirements that that creates. I do not believe that we have the infrastructure that we need or that we get our fair share of it. However, this evening's debate is mostly not about that.

The debate is about the sheer unfairness of a formula which, on the first readjustment, led to an increase per capita of funding of every single member of the then Cabinet, and, for the second consecutive time—the third time in a row if one includes the decision not to update the deprivation indices from 1991–2001—resulted in Kent being among the three or four worst funded councils. That cannot be right.

The Minister must tell us why a granny or a child in care in Kent are so much less important than their counterparts in London and other parts of the country. I look forward to his reply.

5.52 pm

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