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Call for Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite to apologise after smiling foodbank photo sparks LBC debate

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An opposition councillor has called on a council leader to apologise after he was pictured laughing and smiling at the opening of a foodbank.

The leader of the Labour Party in Dartford Cllr Kelly Grehan has called on the Conservative leader of Dartford Council Jeremy Kite to apologise following what she calls "two days of embarrassing headlines in the national media".

The photo which sparked the debate
The photo which sparked the debate

Cllr Grehan said: “The Conservative Leader has this week shown he and his colleagues are woefully out of touch with the needs of Dartford’s families who have been hit hard by his party’s policies and the resulting cost of living crisis.

"He says this shouldn't be political but I think hunger in the 6th richest country in the world is deeply political and only political actions will solve it."

Cllr Kite defended his actions, saying he was invited to the opening and did what the volunteers wanted but labelled food banks as a "real scar on our country".

Former Labour opposition leader and councillor Jonathon Hawkes sparked the debate on Wednesday when he tweeted: "The Tory leader of Dartford cutting the ribbon on another foodbank today. The choice for Dartford next year couldn’t be clearer. More foodbanks with the Tories or a Labour administration genuinely committed to supporting residents through the Conservative cost of living crisis."

Opposition leader Kelly Grehan
Opposition leader Kelly Grehan

It was quickly jumped on by LBC host James O'Brien who angrily asked what "are they all so happy about?"

The issue was then debated on his radio show with callers saying the "celebrating" the opening of a food bank was "disgusting".

Mr Kite then unexpectedly phoned in and said: "I love my town, I love the people in it and I am trying to do the right thing.

"There was a bit of a joke about the count down before the photo was taken.

"This was not a party and really if it was it was organised by the people who volunteer and run the food bank.

"The necessity of food banks are a real scar on our country. The organisers thought it was appropriate and that's why we did it. If the people at the food bank thought it was appropriate then as a guest it is not for me to say whether it was appropriate or not."

Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite

When asked if it was a mistake to be photographed laughing and joking at the opening Mr Kite said: "I was very pleased to go there. It would be a mistake not to have done what the volunteers wanted."

Cllr Kite has since released a statement, which said: “We have a long and very supportive relationship with Dartford’s food banks and we were delighted to be invited to attend the opening of a new and improved centre in the town. Over the years, but especially during the pandemic, we supported, funded and helped a number of local food banks and after meeting clients, volunteers and supporters on Tuesday, we were asked to cut an opening ribbon supplied by the organisers.

“I count so many of these wonderful people as friends and of course we were very happy to be part of the ceremony surrounded by many hardworking volunteers and organisers who put so much time and love into the facility.

“It’s a dreadful shame that some have sought to sour such an important day for purposes only they can account for, but it won’t diminish our sense of pride and appreciation for everything the brilliant staff at the foodbank do.

“Just for the record, during the visit we initiated some really useful conversations with representatives of a number of churches and charities about how to tackle the impact on local people of rising bills and have agreed to work further with them.”

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