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Labour will force vote to uncover the truth about schools with RAAC


Labour will force a vote next week to reveal information about the full extent of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete in school buildings, which has forced more than a hundred schools to fully or partially or close, but which could see many thousands more shut their doors in the coming weeks.

The party intends to use a binding Humble Address motion in the House of Commons on Wednesday to force the publication of official documents about the Conservative government’s handling of the public sector estate crisis, including a list of the schools affected by closure, and the disclosures of evidence that led to closures just days before the start of term.

Labour is taking the step after the Conservatives refused to set out a timetable for releasing details of the schools forced to close, with Schools Minister Nick Gibb pledging onlyto publish a full list of affected schools “in due course”.

Labour’s intervention comes as the crisis affecting schools is likely to extend to a host of public buildings, experts have revealed.A report by the National Audit Office in July said that structurally unsound RAAC was present in at least 41 hospitals, while the Ministry of Justice andthe Ministry of Defence were reported to be reviewing their estates. Labour has called for an urgent audit of all public buildings.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“Parents and the public have the right to know wherepublic buildingsaffected by this dangerous concrete are, what Ministers knew about the risk that this concrete posed to life and why they acted to intervene only days before the start of the school term.

“Labour has been raising the issue ofdanger posed byour crumbling schools estate for nearly a year and at every turn have been met with complacency, obstinacy and inaction.

“An urgent, full audit is required to reveal the extent that Conservative ministers failed to replace this dangerous concrete across the public sector estate.

“It’s time Ministers were transparent about their handling of this debacle: if they still refuse to publish these documents and give parents the reassurances they deserve about the risks to their children’s safety, then we will force a vote in Parliament next week.

The unions have written a letter here.

Sector Response

Responding to the RAAC crisis which that has resulted in the full or partial closure of 104 schools, the co-leader of the Green Party, Carla Denyer, said:

“Our education system has been left crumbling after 13 years of Tory austerity. But successive governments have known about the problems with RAACgoingall the way back to the 1980s. 

“Our schools are not fit for purpose. This was revealed during the pandemic when failures to properly ventilate our schools became apparent. We’vealso seen portacabins in place semi permanently in many schools. And now this dodgy concrete crisis. 

“As chancellor,Rishi Sunak decided to axe investment in new schools from 100 to 50. That was despite a Department for Education survey that revealed the need to rebuild 300 to 400 schools. 

“At the very least, the prime minister should reverse the decision he made as chancellor to halve the rebuilding programme. Beyond that we need proper investment in our schools’ infrastructure to bring buildings up to a standard fit for the 21st century.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to comments by the Prime Minister suggesting that more schools could be affected by the Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete crisis,said:

“The Prime Minister has now revealed what many parents feared: this crisis affects many more schools than they were initially led to believe.

“The decisions he took directly as Chancellor to drastically cut the number of schools to be rebuiltare there in black and white, in a spending review he signed off,and have put children directly at risk from this dangerous form of concrete, which should have been replaced.

“It’s time that this Conservative government, including the Prime Minister, came clean about which schoolsare affected, what they knew about this dangerous concrete, and the decisions they took which have seen more than a hundred close. If they don’t, Labour will force a vote to release the information in the House of Commons.”

Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies said: 

‘Spending on school buildings is low in historical terms and low compared with levels of need, as assessed both by the independent National Audit Office and the Department for Education itself. The current crisis illustrates just how costly failing to keep on top of necessary investment in buildings and infrastructure can be.’

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has accused Rishi Sunak of putting “tax cuts for big banks over children’s safety” after analysis by the party shows that Sunak rejected pleas by officials for an extra £900 million a year for school funding in the 2021 Spending Review.

Officials in the Department for Education asked the Treasury for an average of £4 billion a year over five years for new buildings and school repairs. They did so despite this being less than the £5.3 billion they estimated was needed to “mitigate the most serious risks of building failure.”

Then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak turned down their request, allocating just £3.1 billion a year on average.

In the same Spending Review, he announced tax cuts for big banks worth more than £1.1bn a year, slashing the Bank Surcharge from 8% to 3%. This would have been more than enough to offset the shortfall in funding that civil servants had asked for.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: 

“Rishi Sunak shamefully chose tax cuts for the big banks over children’s safety. 

“It is staggering that in the very same Budget in which he slashed taxes for the banks, Sunak couldn’t find the cash needed to urgently repair crumbling schools.

“Rishi Sunak must apologise to all the children and parents facing the consequences of his disastrous decision. His refusal to take responsibility for his role in this crisis has been totally tin-eared and just shows how out of touch he is.”

Two schools on Anglesey have been identified as having RAAC, Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi. There are no immediate risks or concerns.

The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said:

“Our main concern is the safety of pupils and staff. Since we became aware of these developments, we have been working urgently with Local Authorities and WLGA to make sure pupils and staff can go back to school safely.

“Some of the new evidence regarding the usage of RAAC was provided to Welsh Government last night. This was immediately shared with Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn to support them in their decision making process.

“We’re making these decisions together to keep staff and pupils safe. Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn and the schools are doing everything they can to minimise the impact on pupils. If any of this action affects you, you will hear directly from your school.”

Councillor Ian Roberts (Flintshire), WLGA Education Spokesperson said:

“The WLGA continues to work closely and in regular dialogue with the Welsh Government and local authorities on this issue. Teachers, staff, and pupils’ safety is our paramount priority as we seek to establish the full position across Wales.”

Anglesey Council Leader, Cllr Llinos Medi said:

“This is an evolving and emerging national issue. We appreciate this will be disappointing for all staff and pupils. However, their safety is our main priority. We are putting plans in place for Ysgol David Hughes and Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi to minimise any disruption to children’s education.

“We are working closely with the Headteachers and staff at the affected schools. The schools will communicate further updates with parents/guardians and young people. Again, our main priority is to ensure the safety of all our staff and young people.”

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP said:

“Gillian Keegan’s disgraceful comments add insult to injury for parents who’ve seen their children’s return to school ruined by this concrete crisis.

“Expecting people to thank her when children are being taught in classrooms at risk of collapse shows Keegan must be living on another planet.

“The very least Keegan owes parents for her refusal to take responsibility for her shocking handling of this crisis and out of touch comments is an apology. 

“She needs to bring herself before the nation and say sorry to the thousands of parents and children who have had their start to the school year wrecked on her watch.”

Timeline of Events: Condition of School Buildings

Bridget Phillipson Oral Parliamentary Question:

I begin by welcoming the fourth Education Secretary in the last four months to his place. For the time being, he has the best job in Government. In May, internal Department documents described some school buildings as a “risk to life”. After the Conservatives crashed our economy, does he believe that there should be further cuts to school capital budgets?

  • December 2022:Government’s annual report and accounts upgrades the risk of a school building collapsing to ‘critical: very likely’, the risk is escalated to the central government risk register.
  • May 2023:In response to Labour’s Opposition Day Debate, on school buildings:
    Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that where schools have RAAC the government will “ensure that appropriate and rapid action is taken to address any immediate risk”, he went on to state that: “Funding should be no barrier to safety”.

Minister for Skills Rob Halfon, said in the same debate: that RAAC is taken “particularly seriously” and that “appropriate and rapid action is taken to address any immediate risk”.

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