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Sat, 20 April 2024

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Labour's Planning For Government Identified Crumbling Concrete As Possible Early Pitfall

Labour leader Keir Starmer (Alamy)

3 min read

The concrete crisis that has engulfed the government since Westminster's return from the summer recess had been identified by the Labour Party as a potential pitfall in the first few months of being in power if it is elected.

As part of its work preparing for government, Labour has drawn up a number of issues which could become major problems in the early part of a Keir Starmer administration.

The next general election must be called before the end of 2024, and opinion polls continue to indicate that Labour is on course to form a government for the first time in nearly twenty years when it happens.

One of the issues highlighted as part of the opposition's preparatory work was the presence of potentially dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in public buildings such as schools, an issue which has now already exploded into a crisis for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in recent days, PoliticsHome understands. 

The UK asylum system collapsing under extreme strain is another key crisis Labour anticipates could come to a head in the early days of the next government. 

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, has accused successive Tory ministers of knowing about the risk posed by RAAC "for years" but having "done nothing" to tackle it.

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan have been under pressure to explain their role in the crisis after the Department for Education last week said that more than 150 schools across England were deemed to be at risk of collapse as a result of potentially faulty RAAC, forcing many to close or partially close ahead of the start of term.

There are currently concerns that the scale of the problem could be bigger and more wide-ranging, and result in disruption elsewhere in the public sector in the coming weeks.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is being urged to clarify whether RAAC, which was used heavily in the mid-20th century effort to reconstruct Britain following World War Two, is present in settings like courtrooms and the prison estate, and whether it poses a threat to safety.

The crisis has overshadowed the government's attempt to get off to the new parliamentary term on the front foot, with Sunak facing criticism over his decision as chancellor of the exchequer to fund the rebuilding of 50 schools a year despite officials requesting a significantly higher rate. On Tuesday, schools minister Nick Gibb admitted that in 2021 the DfE had asked for enough Treasury money to fund the overhauling of 200 schools a year.

For Labour, however, it has presented Starmer and his reshuffled Shadow Cabinet with a fresh line of attack as it looks to build momentum heading into a pivotal autumn.

In a meeting of Shadow Cabinet on Tuesday morning, the first since Starmer re-arranged his top team on Monday, shadow ministers were given a presentation on public pessimism and the challenge they face convincing voters that the party is capable of fixing the problems facing them if elected to government, PoliticsHome understands.

As Labour prepares for its annual conference in Liverpool in mid-October, the party plans to shift away from lambasting thirteen years of Conservative rule and focus more on attempting to to communicate solutions to the problems facing the country.

One shadow minister said that over the next few months Labour would try to present itself as credible fixers and that a vote for the Conservative party would be risking what they describe as further national deterioration. 

"We can't afford another five years of the Tories," they added.

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