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Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the Minister, because I was present at that debate and I would not take back a single word of what I said. I have already given one example of the staggering waste in the education department at a time when schools needed the money in the classrooms, but let me give two wider examples. First, we had 15 chief education officers then, and a chief education officer was paid more than the Prime Minister. Within weeks of the Conservatives' taking over, the number had fallen to six. Secondly, the council managed to spend all the reserves, apart from the legal minimum, in running up huge debts, but in the end it was squealing that it was not receiving enough rate support grant, despite a formula that was much more generous in comparison with those in other parts of the country than it is today.

Mr. Woolas: The irony is obviously lost on the hon. Gentleman. I wish he would acknowledge the reality, which is that gross domestic product per capita has risen in his county, unemployment in his county has fallen
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and public investment in his county has risen under a Labour Government. I am not here to defend Kent county council's actions during the period concerned, although I would imagine that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford suggested—its spending, particularly on education, rose above the level of the standard spending assessment, and I would imagine that not one Member who is present now argued to the electorate at the time that the SSA should be reduced. But perhaps I should move on from irony, as some fell on stony ground.

The hon. Member for North Thanet asked why people were displaced from London. That problem affects all major cities, particularly in Kent and parts of east Sussex. The reason is probably the high costs to London local authorities were they to keep the care homes in London. I know from my own constituency that, unfortunately, people with severe problems—especially mental and disability problems—have been placed in homes many miles away. I wish that that were not the case, and the Government's policy is to reverse the position, because it is better for local people to live locally.

The hon. Gentleman cited Islington council. I am pretty sure that it is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps we can unite at this point, because, as usual, no Liberal Democrats are present. I am sure that if Islington council were spending local and national taxpayers' money on accommodation at the rate at which they would have to spend in central London, the hon. Gentleman would be lambasting it here and elsewhere.

Mr. Gale: The point is that Islington's grant per elderly person, and indeed per cared-for child, is three times the grant that Kent receives. That is supposed to reflect the very costs in London that the Minister has mentioned. Like a number of London boroughs controlled, probably, by all parties, Islington is placing people in Kent, buying facilities that Kent cannot afford in its own county, and pocketing the change. The money was put there for the council to provide for itself. Let it do that.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman must face up to the paradox that his own speech exposed. First, one could not reasonably pursue a policy whereby spending on social services for the elderly in inner London boroughs should be the same as that in shire areas, though we could argue about the differential. Secondly, it is not reasonable to say that any authority should provide residential care only within its own boundaries. I do not think that I would like to live in a country where that was the case. Local authorities across the political parties should be congratulated on making efficiency savings. If they are getting a cheaper—in the financial sense—service by placing people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, it is easy to understand why they should be doing so. If Islington can make financial savings, I would have thought that both my party and the hon. Gentleman's should congratulate the council on that.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells spoke about pressures on home building and complained about the alleged lack of infrastructure as a result of growth. Once again, he cannot have his cake and eat it. He cannot
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complain about pressures on houses while at the same time saying that we need to put up a fortress around the inner London boroughs to protect Kent from the real world. That is not a consistent policy.

Mr. Fallon: The Minister is awarding boroughs such as Islington higher costs for looking after its elderly, reflecting the higher costs in the area, but if it chooses to spend a greater amount in sending old people out of those areas, surely that should sooner or later be reflected in the allocation that he makes. The council cannot have it both ways. If it is getting extra money because the area has higher costs and then benefits by sending its elderly out of the borough, is it not unfair on other authorities that are receiving a lower grant?

Mr. Woolas: The impression has been given in the debate that that is the only criterion for the allocation of money. I think that I am right in saying that sparsity is another criterion in the allocation, which I would not have thought applied to inner London. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) makes a serious point, which I will take very seriously. The consequence of doing what he recommends would be to punish success. It would be to tell councils that are producing efficiencies and spending council tax payers' money more responsibly that that money should be withdrawn from them.

Of course, there has to be a balance and I accept that some rural and county areas have genuine extra costs, but I do not accept the picture that has been painted of the south-east in relation to other areas. We need a balance between recognising genuine extra costs—we also have to take historic spend into account in order not to rupture or dysfunction services—and encouraging efficiencies in order to keep the bills of council tax payers down. I am sure that Conservative Members would agree with that. There is a danger of not rewarding authorities that are attempting to keep their bills down.

I acknowledge that there is a real issue, but let me address the point about infrastructure. Conservative Members have made different specific cases. I think that the hon. Member for North Thanet said that the Deputy Prime Minister was dumping houses on Herne bay, but I think I am right in saying that Herne bay is not in the growth area of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I do not know the circumstances of local building, but once again, the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that he wants to provide reasonably priced homes and a future for the people of the area and at the same time blame all the problems on the Labour Government.

To be fair, the economy of south-east and east Kent—and, indeed, north Kent—was damaged by the closure of the mines in the 1980s, though I am not trying to make a partisan point about that. There is also the knock-on effect of the opening of the channel tunnel. Some Members have said that there has been no infrastructure investment in Kent, but I think that I am right in saying that the largest infrastructure investment in western Europe is located between London and the channel: it is called the channel tunnel link. Ashford International station was chosen as part of a regeneration—

Mr. Brazier: By a Conservative Government.
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Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman, who shouts from a sedentary position, is in danger of becoming the Chicken Licken of the Tory party. The channel tunnel link was a Conservative Government initiative, and the policy was that it should be paid for entirely and exclusively with private money. The scheme collapsed, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister negotiated a package to save it. Is the hon. Gentleman denying the Labour Government's crucial intervention to ensure the modernisation of the channel tunnel and the creation of a fast link? He virtually implied earlier that we are not allowed motorways up north. Goodness me! The idea that there are more motorways up north than down south is ridiculous.

Mr. Gale: Is it?

Mr. Woolas: The policy of this Government is that all areas should share in prosperity. I was asked for an assurance that there is no policy of northern bias by stealth, but that observation is based on the assumption—one could almost say prejudice—that up north we are all poor. The second richest county in the UK is Cheshire, and there are bits of the north and the north-west that are beautiful, just as there are bits of the south and south-east that are poor. In the run-up to the local government settlement, the special interest group of municipal authorities accused us of not giving money to the north and of giving it all to the southern softies. I apologise to SIGOMA; I was paraphrasing. Equally, southern authorities are accusing us of the reverse. However, the formulas are based not on geographical distribution, but on a genuine attempt to achieve fairness that is being made in the context of a rising tide. So I can give the assurance that has been sought on this issue, and if Members look at the figures, they will see that my point is borne out by the position of, say, Lancashire, in relation to other county councils. The Government's policy is based on the view that the differences within regions are as great, if not greater, than they are between regions. The poorest areas in the country are overwhelmingly in London, and some of the richest are in Cheshire and Yorkshire. A very fair point was made about pockets of poverty, and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) relayed his interesting conversation in the Tea Room about where it is better to be poor. I do not want to be drawn into that, because the truth is that there is a balance in this regard. It is more difficult to get a job in a poorer area, but I acknowledge that there are perhaps extra costs associated with living in a pocket of poverty in a richer area.

I can assure the House that the horribly titled super-output areas—a statistical description of how we measure deprivation—enable us to identify deprivation at a sub-ward level, and to provide a better analysis of the allocation of money. It is fair to point out that it would be wrong to assume that there are no pockets of deprivation in the better-off areas. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) described Sevenoaks as an affluent area, and that that is why it is badly funded. Sevenoaks is a relatively well-off area, but there are no doubt pockets of poverty and deprivation within that. Our policy is to ensure that our funding formula addresses that. On the other side of the
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coin, I would not like to take the hon. Gentleman to, say, Knowsley and argue that point too strongly. The breadth and depth of deprivation in some towns and cities is significant, and the Government are successfully addressing that as well.

The hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich had said that Sevenoaks was being badly funded because it was affluent. I suspect that my right hon. Friend said that Sevenoaks had received an above-inflation funding increase, like everywhere else, but acknowledged that it was relatively less well-funded than other areas. I hope that I have made my point.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about London weighting and said that pay policy and housing policy differed across sectors. One could say that that is simply a result of the bargaining mechanisms that we have. There is also a policy to try to ensure that more affordable housing is available for key workers. I recognise, however, that London weighting is a problem for areas on the outer ring of London. I would include in the equation the difficulties and differences resulting from the area cost adjustment. Incidentally, those systems were not set up by this Government, but the hon. Gentleman's point is worth careful consideration, and I thank him for it.

I do not want to go into too much detail on infrastructure. I do not accept the general premise that the Government have not invested in the infrastructure in Kent. On motorways, the other side of the coin would be the accusation from these Benches that Kent got its motorways first. We used to love coming down south and getting on their fast motorways. We waited from 1964 for the completion of the M60 around Greater Manchester. I was delighted to be there when it was opened and delighted that it was my Government who opened it. We did not build that motorway because it was up north; we built it because we wanted to improve the prosperity of the country and make everybody better off.

I have made the point about Ashford and the rail link. I hope that the House will acknowledge that investment in infrastructure has been substantial. Points have been made about the need for more water, sewerage, schools and so on, but planning policy, as updated by this Government—in PPS6, I think—acknowledges the point about infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells made a point about the 1991 population statistics. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the settlement. What I would say is that that is true for everyone, and not all the examples of new developments in south-east England—I have mentioned Herne bay—are the result of the ODPM's growth policy, but we do need to provide houses for people.

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