Expert explains why Raac is more dangerous than standard concrete
Sir Keir Starmer has blamed the crumbling concrete crisis on “cutting corners” and “sticking plaster politics” as he grilled the prime minister in PMQs today.
The Labour leader: “It’s the sort thing you expect from cowboy builders saying everyone else is wrong, everyone is to blame, protesting that they’re doing an effing good job even if the ceiling falls in – except in this case the cowboys are running this country.”
He added: “Isn’t he ashamed that after 13 years children are cowering under steel supports, stopping their classroom roof falling in.”
Rishi Sunak said he was not sorry for the decision to close around 100 of the 156 schools with Raac, saying he would “make no apology for acting decisively in the light of new information”.
It comes as the Department for Education has published a full list of the schools affected with Raac in England.
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Katy Clifton6 September 2023 20:02
ICYMI: Seven questions from parents answered by experts
As schools return for a new year this week, hundreds have been caught up in a concrete crisis.
During an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session for The Independent, Schools Week editor John Dickens tackled a wide range of questions from parents worried about their child’s school.
Take a look at the Q&A below:
Katy Clifton6 September 2023 19:25
Concrete crisis threatens pledge to cut NHS backlog
Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cut the NHS waiting list backlog is being threatened by the crumbling concrete crisis as affected hospitals warn they will be forced to shut wards and theatres.
Hospitals were told they had buildings prone to collapse in 2019 but four years later they are still dealing with the issue.
In a report last year, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust leaders said that work to replace Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (Raac) in its hospitals would hit general surgery, urology, gynaecology and orthopaedic care.
Wards have had to close, piling pressure on a crowded A&E as patients can’t be offloaded due to lack of beds, and threatening its ability to hit government targets to reduce waiting lists, it added.
Rebecca Thomas6 September 2023 18:47
Keegan defends refusal
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told MPs that it would be “inaccurate, incomplete, and inappropriate to disclose the details requested of the sensitive negotiations between His Majesty’s Treasury and individual Government departments”.
She added: “Inaccurate because it would only show part of the picture of a complex decision-making process that takes place between multiple departments, multiple ministers, officials and other individuals with varying priorities.
“Incomplete because such a process has to look across the board at priorities and trade-offs for all Government departments to ensure we can deliver for everyone, yet this motion focuses on only one.
“Inappropriate because it would be categorically in breach of the longstanding tradition and expectation of confidential and often commercially sensitive information not being disclosed into the public domain, and of allowing officials to give full and frank advice to ministers.”
Sam Rkaina6 September 2023 18:10
Ministers refuse to hand over written advice on crumbling schools
Ministers have refused to heed Labour’s calls to hand over written advice the Prime Minister was given about crumbling concrete in schools while he was chancellor.
Rishi Sunak has become embroiled in the row about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) after suggestions that he approved 50 schools to be rebuilt a year when he was chancellor, rejecting an application for 200 to be given the same treatment.
Concerns over the safety of Raac has caused more than 100 schools across England to be partially or fully closed.
Labour used their opportunity to lead a Commons debate on Wednesday to demand the publication of evidence sent by the Department for Education (DfE) to both No 10 and the Treasury relating to the crisis.
It also pushed for the release of all related correspondence ahead of the 2020 and 2021 spending reviews and the 2022 spring and autumn statements to show what advice Mr Sunak was given as chancellor about the need to replace Raac.
Sam Rkaina6 September 2023 17:46
Starmer: Sunak’s champagne Tories put bubbly tax cut ahead of bubbly concrete
Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of putting champagne drinkers ahead of school safety by cutting the budget for rebuilding classrooms while slashing duty on bubbly.
Ahead of a showdown with the prime minister in the Commons later the Labour leader highlighted Mr Sunak’s decision to slash investment in the school estate while reducing duty on sparkling wine.
“These are choices. [Sunak] didn’t say, ‘Well, I can’t do that in relation to champagne’. He took a choice to cut the rate in relation to champagne and not to sign off the necessary funding for school,” Sir Keir told BBC News.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain6 September 2023 15:54
Decision to spend £34 million revamping offices ‘nothing to do with me,’ Keegan says
The decision to spend £34 million to revamp the Department for Education’s headquarters had “nothing to do with me”, the education secretary has said.
Labour’s Sarah Owen (Luton North) earlier told the Commons Gillian Keegan had to “get a grip and explain why her offices got a £34 million refurbishment when schools are crumbling under this Tory government”.
Responding to the opposition day debate, Gillian Keegan later said: “£34 million is a government building for the Department for Education that was signed off by the commercial director for the Department for Education, nothing to do with me, based on a decision made in 2019 before I was a minister.”
Maryam Zakir-Hussain6 September 2023 15:30
Some schools with crumbling concrete may have to be demolished, experts warn
Some of the English schools found to have the crumbling concrete may have to be demolished if repairs become too expensive, experts have told The Independent.
Rishi Sunak’s government – under fire over years of “underinvestment” in school repair work – has been told it could be more cost effective to write off some of the older affected schools and build new ones.
Asbestos problems in some of the 147 schools identified as having reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) – the problem material compared to an “Aero bar” – could complicate remedial work, said building specialists.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain6 September 2023 15:09
No 10: ‘No specific timeline’ for resolution to crisis
The government will not publish a submission from the Department for Education (DfE) to the Treasury asking for money to deal with the crumbling concrete crisis blighting schools.
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman cited a “long-standing approach” to not publish official advice to ministers, saying he would not release the submission.
Former DfE permanent secretary Jonathan Slater said this week a submission to the Treasury before a 2021 spending review to rebuild 200 schools a year was turned down despite warnings of a “critical risk to life”.
Asked about when schools which have been affected by the crumbling Raac concrete, the PM’s spokesman said the government “can not put a specific timeline on it”.
In the schools identified as hit by the problem, mitigations will be in place “in a matter of weeks”, but there “are still some outstanding surveys”.
One in 20 schools sent surveys to identify Raac by the DfE have not responded, the spokesman confirmed.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain6 September 2023 14:40
School Raac concrete crisis: 7 questions from parents answered by expert as government list affected schools
Schools Week editor John Dickens tackled questions on homeschooling, further closures, contingency plans and more:
Maryam Zakir-Hussain6 September 2023 14:24