‘Reckless Tory government’ not taking safety seriously
Labour calls for audit of all public-sector buildings after schools forced to close over collapse-risk concrete
LABOUR called for an urgent audit of all public-sector buildings containing concrete at risk of sudden collapse today as teaching unions demanded that the government covers the related costs for schools.
The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayer accused the Tories of sitting on their hands before telling 104 schools and colleges containing the material they must close classrooms days before the school year begins.
Ms Rayner said: “The safety of the public is not being taken seriously by this reckless Tory government. If public safety is at risk, we need to know urgently.
“The government sat on their hands for years and then shut schools the week before term starts. We cannot let them lurch from crisis to crisis.
“The public needs to know how much damage the Tories have done to our schools, prisons, hospitals and job centres over the past 13 years of incompetent government.
“An urgent, full audit is required to find out the extent that Conservative ministers failed to replace this dangerous concrete across the public sector estate,” she concluded.
NEU general secretary Daniel Kebede criticised schools minister Nick Gibb for blaming schools for a Department for Education U-turn over what costs schools would have to cover due to concerns over the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
Guidance issued to schools on Thursday night said rental costs for emergency or temporary accomodation for education settings or additional transport costs would not be covered by government — however Mr Gibb, who this morning said more schools could be asked to close buildings than the 104 contacted so far, reversed this decision.
Mr Kebede welcomed the “U-turn on costs that could well have been almost impossible for already beleaguered schools, given the lack of school funding and budgets already stretched to the limit.
“Nick Gibb must now be absolutely clear on what costs will or will not be taken on by government. The current guidance should not be left to interpretation. No costs should come out of existing school budgets, and it must be funded from government.”
He blamed the Tories for “never adequately” replacing the £55-billion Building Schools for the Future funding programme axed in 2010, adding: “The NEU and sister unions have been raising concerns ever since and pressuring Education Secretary Gillian Keegan in recent months to release a list of Raac-affected schools.”
NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “It would appear that mere luck rather than judgement has prevented a major disaster. Today’s announcement highlights the impact of more than a decade of wilful underinvestment in school building refurbishment and the renewal of our school estate.”
On Thursday, the DfE said it had contacted 104 schools after just 52 of the 156 containing the concrete took protective steps so far this year.
Mr Gibb insisted: “We took the decision as soon as the evidence emerged.”
Both the NEU and Labour have demanded that the government name all the affected schools.
The DfE has been considering Raac — a lightweight building material used from the 1950s up to the mid-1990s — a potential issue since late 2018.
The possible presence of the concrete was being assessed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, where education is devolved.
The Welsh government said councils and colleges have not reported any presence of Raac.
Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe told the Morning Star: “This danger has been known about for almost 30 years and a topic for supposedly urgent action since the collapse of a building at Singlewell primary school in Kent in 2018.
“But as we have seen in the case of flammable cladding [in the case of the Grenfell Tower fire], the government has been slow to act, putting cost ahead of people’s safety.”
Former Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said: “It was Michael Gove as education secretary in 2010 who scrapped Labour’s £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme.
“There was no survey to follow of the structural integrity of the numerous buildings — schools but also hospitals — built with Raac with a life expectancy of 30-40 years.
“It is a miracle that no lives have been lost to his and the Tory government’s disdainful and ignorant neglect. Will Labour do any better?”
A Justice4Grenfell spokeswoman said: “In the face of mounting evidence and expert warnings, it is deeply disheartening to witness government inaction that puts the lives of countless children at risk.”