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Rishi Sunak Makes “No Apology” For Addressing School Concrete Safety Concerns Now

PMQs has returned to the House of Commons after summer recess (Alamy)

3 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at Prime Minister’s Questions that the government would make “no apology” for acting to close more than 150 schools at risk of collapse due to faulty concrete.

At the first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) since parliament returned from summer recess on Monday, the Sunak defended the government’s actions after the Department for Education confirmed that more than 150 schools across England were deemed to be at risk of collapse as a result of potentially faulty reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), following criticism that the government had long been warned about the issue and failed to act. 

Many of these schools have been forced to close or partially close at the start of term, with 43 unable to start term as normal and 19 closed entirely. The government has faced criticism of failing to sufficiently fund building safety programmes that could have averted the crisis. 

"We make no apology for acting decisively in the face of new information,” Sunak told MPs in the Commons.

“And let me provide the House with an update on where we are: Of the 22,000 schools in England, the vast, vast majority won't be affected.

“As new advice has come forward, the government has rightly decisively and swiftly acted in the face of that advice.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has already been mocked by Labour for posting a graphic boldly stating that "most schools are unaffected".

Labour leader Keir Starmer challenged the Prime Minister on the issue at PMQs, arguing that after the roof of Singlewell Primary School in Gravesend collapsed in 2018, the government had halved the budget for school maintenance only a couple of years later while being aware the issue could affect other schools. 

“The truth is this crisis is the inevitable result of 13 years of cutting corners,” the Labour leader said. 

“Sticking plaster politics is the sort of thing you expect from cowboy builders: say that everyone else is wrong, everyone else is to blame, protesting they've done a fucking good job, even if the ceiling falls in.”

Keegan was caught on camera complaining that she was facing too much criticism over the issue. 

“Does anyone ever say: ‘You know what, you’ve done a fucking good job, because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?’ No signs of that, no?”,” she said to an ITV reporter after the televised interview. 

The RAAC crisis could continue to have national ramifications, raising questions over the safety of many public buildings across different sectors.

One former Conservative education minister told PoliticsHome that schools had suffered from "years and years" of Treasury neglect and underspending, and that they believed the government would inevitably have to go beyond the education department's existing budget to deal with the chaos.

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