Labour demands to see advice Rishi Sunak given about schools concrete crisis

Labour will look to force the Government to hand over written advice the Prime Minister was given about crumbling concrete in schools while he was chancellor.

Concerns over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) has caused more than 100 schools in England to partially or fully shut.

Rishi Sunak has become embroiled in the row after a schools minister suggested the Prime Minister approved for 50 schools to be rebuilt a year when he was chancellor, rejecting an application for 200 to be given the same treatment.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party intends to table a humble address motion, an arcane parliamentary mechanism which can be used to demand papers from government departments, to find out what Mr Sunak knew about the construction trouble in the education sector.

Labour, during an Opposition Day debate in the Commons on Wednesday, will demand the publication of submissions of evidence sent by the Department for Education (DfE) to both No 10 and the Treasury relating to the crisis.

As part of the move, it will also push to see 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.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “It’s scandalous that parents are still in the dark about the dangers posed to their children at school because of Rishi Sunak’s reckless decision to slash budgets for school rebuilding, reportedly against the advice of officials.

“The Prime Minister is directly responsible for the crisis that has struck schools this week, the chaos that families have faced at the start of term and the disruption to children’s learning.

Keir Starmer visits Friern Barnet School
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson will table a humble address (James Manning/PA)

“Today, we are giving Conservative MPs a choice: to vote with Labour and give parents the right to know about who is responsible for this mess or to vote to conceal the true scale of this crisis and the Prime Minister’s failure to keep our children safe.”

On Tuesday, schools minister Nick Gibb suggested that the Prime Minister, when chancellor in 2021, had gone with other priorities over a request to increase funding to fix England’s schools.

The DfE has conceded that just four schools have been rebuilt so far under the programme, which Mr Sunak has used in his defence in recent days, to overhaul 500 sites by 2030.

Separately, the Prime Minister has been accused by former DfE permanent secretary Jonathan Slater of refusing to fully fund a programme to rebuild the country’s crumbling schools when he was in the Treasury.

The ex-civil servant said that up to 400 schools a year needed to be replaced but that funding was given for 100 after Mr Sunak took the decision to “halve the size of the programme”.

However, Mr Sunak told reporters this week that the attack on his record was “completely and utterly wrong”.

Cabinet Meeting
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan defended the Prime Minister over his Treasury record (James Manning/PA)

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who has come under fire for her handling of the concrete crisis, defended the Prime Minister’s past actions to protect school building safety.

She said: “As chancellor, the Prime Minister introduced the school rebuilding programmes – delivering 500 schools over the next decade.

“On top of that, the Conservatives have invested £15 billion in schools since 2015.

“In addition, capital spending this year will be almost 29% higher in real terms than last year.

“An independent review found Labour’s schools funding programme was badly targeted and complex.

“It did nothing to fix schools in poor condition, particularly those affected by Raac. In contrast the Labour-run Welsh government have sat on their hands and failed to act on schools in Wales.”