So here we are again. In the middle of yet another ‘how long have they known and why did they do nothing about it’ saga. The RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) scandal demonstrates the same callous disregard for the lives outside the circles of the privileged few as did the care home tragedy during Covid. This is not about incompetence or a poor reaction to some unforeseeable act of God. It’s the result of a deliberate political decision to cut spending despite the warnings of a critical risk to life.
The problem is not new
And the problem is not new, however many ministers pop up to lie that the risk of crumbling and collapse is a recent discovery. As far back as 1995, The Times reported [£] the first warnings on the ‘concrete crisis’ affecting schools, hospitals and law courts.
Spending on repairs axed by Gove in 2010
The Labour government’s £55bn ‘Building Schools for the Future’ plan was trashed by austerity measures, with Michael Gove cancelling building repairs, some of which were already underway. When some money was later found, it went to Gove’s new academies. Of course.
In 2018, a part of the roof at Singlewell Primary, in Gravesend, Kent, collapsed with no warning. Very luckily indeed, this occurred over a weekend. A quick internet search will reveal pictures which will make it clear that there would have been serious injuries and even fatalities if the classroom had been occupied.
Strongly-worded warnings in 2021 and 2022
In 2021 AND 2022, The Office of Government Property (OGP) issued a formal warning notice about RAAC:
“During 2021 we highlighted the safety issues relating to the historic use of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in public buildings across the UK. This notice provides a further update on RAAC following the publication of the The Institution of Structural Engineers’ recent report on this subject.
“RAAC is now life-expired and liable to collapse – this has already happened in two schools with little or no notice. RAAC is a lightweight form of precast concrete, frequently used in public sector buildings in the UK from the mid-1960s to at least the mid-1980s. It is mainly found in roofs, although occasionally in floors and walls. It is less durable than traditional concrete and there have been problems as a result, which could have significant safety consequences.”
It’s not easy (or cheap) for schools to establish whether they have any RAAC structures or not, as the notice makes clear:
“Visually, RAAC planks may look the same as precast concrete, and may be hidden above false ceilings. For initial identification of RAAC in existing buildings, it may be necessary to engage an appropriately qualified and experienced construction professional, for example a chartered structural engineer, a registered architect or a chartered surveyor. Guidance on how to look for RAAC in buildings has been produced by the Department for Education.”
In short, schools had to fund experts to determine whether their buildings were at risk.
In 2019, The Guardian reported that one in six schools were in dire need of repair. It also became clear that many of the affected schools were in the poorer parts of the midlands and the north.
“While the average secondary school now faces a £1.6m bill for repairs, schools in the east and West Midlands have the highest bills of any part of the country, running close to £200 a square metre.”
By way of contrast, Eton College spent £8.7m on building repairs in 2021/22, out of an income of £59m from school fees and a further £25m odd from donations, investment income and trading.
Sunak’s Treasury cut funding for repairs drastically
Civil servants in the Department for Education spelled it out for Treasury when Sunak was Chancellor in stark terms. The state of the school buildings was such that there was “a critical risk to life”. 300 to 400 schools needed to be rebuilt every year in England, to address the risks.
Despite the evidence and the warnings, Sunak elected to fund only 100 of those schools, subsequently halving that again to just 50.
He’s denying it’s his fault, of course. The same old tactic. Lie. Gaslight. Deny.
We all need to watch this: NB: original tweet had the full footage…nor substituted with edited text. WHY?
You can see the video further down.
By the way, this is the same Sunak who donated a bottle of wine to his local state school’s fund raiser but shelled out £100,000 to his old school, Winchester College, and $3m – yes, THREE MILLION DOLLARS – to a US college in California, where he has one of his many homes.
Meanwhile, here’s the glib, complacent minister of state for education, Gillian Keegan:
And we must not fall for the ‘record spending’ deflection. Just consider what has happened to schools’ fuel and food bills!
And Jeremy Hunt, now Chancellor: on the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg programme, September 3:
“Government will spend whatever it takes to make RAAC schools safe.”
Jeremy Hunt now:
“No new money for schools.”
How 25 per cent of the population can possibly trust the Conservatives to do a better job than any of the other parties is utterly baffling. They have happily thrown the elderly and the clinically vulnerable under the Covid bus. They have trashed our rivers and seas and brought the NHS to its knees. They have engineered and presided over a cost-of-living crisis whilst continuing to dance to their fossil fuel donors’ tune. They have shown that they are willing to risk children’s lives through cuts to repairs and investment. We need a general election and we need to vote them out, before more die as a consequence of Tory policies and priorities.
These Conservatives are ‘a critical risk to life.’