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The hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to remind him that, during my time, spending on or in schools increased, as did the number of teachers.
The reduction in teaching numbers came when the hon. Gentleman was leader of the council. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to apologise for that.
The most extravagant claims have been made about secondary schools. I am pleased that such schools in my constituency have been free from them. One of the reasons is that Brentwood and Ongar is the only constituency in which all secondary schools have opted out of the local authority's control. They are free, therefore, from political bias. I have little doubt that the shroud waving of Opposition Members will encourage others to join Brentwood and Ongar.
Parents in my constituency enjoy schools that are free from dogma. Mr. Leo McKinstry's description of a Labour administration
mean-minded cocktail of political correctness, bureaucracy, intervention and abuse of public money
when talking about Islington could well fit Essex county council, which is controlled by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats.
My constituents have been the victims of a combination of fuzzy dogma and incompetence. The county council is damaging them over a relatively small sum. They have been denied care in the community services. Beds in local hospitals are being blocked. Children are worried about the future of their elderly parents. It should not, and need not, have happened. It has, however, because the county council has decided to use the elderly as a battering ram.
No one ever thought that care in the community would be a cheap option. We always knew that it would be expensive. That is why the sum made available by the Government to Essex county council for care in the community was increased last year by £32 million. There will be an extra £18 million this year. Since 1990, the grant for care in the community to the county council has risen by 95 per cent.
My constituents have been the victims of poor decision making. There has been a transfer of about £500,000 from the care in the community budget to support inappropriate services, and the charging policy has been turned completely on its head, to the tune of £1.25 million. That is almost the exact sum that the county council chooses to take away from elderly people.
The county council has decided to end the policy of selling old persons' homes. I have some experience of this because I visited Brooks house. Before the election, I saw an old, rundown building where the staff offered excellent care. Unfortunately, it was not a place where elderly people should see out their last years. When it came to the surroundings, there was no dignity and no respect. The sale was fought hard by the Liberal Democrats; indeed, it has ended that policy. I had the pleasure of opening Brooks house last year under the new regime. What I saw there was respect for the elderly people, the same staff running it and a better organisation. Under the new regime, it is a lot cheaper and a lot better in the private sector. Essex county council could buy considerably more care under that process if it would follow the example of putting the care of those old persons into the private sector.
I firmly believe that it is within the power of Essex county council to use its not inconsiderable balance of £28 million to put care back where it is needed—into the hands of the elderly in my constituency.