Rishi Sunak Halved The Amount Spent On School Rebuilding Despite Concrete Fears

Top civil servant says the then chancellor was warned that hundreds of schools needed urgent repairs.
Rishi Sunak has been dragged
Rishi Sunak has been dragged
JOE GIDDENS via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak halved the number of schools in a government rebuilding programme despite warnings that they posed a risk to pupils and teachers, a top civil servant has claimed.

Jonathan Slater, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education for four years until 2020, said it was “frustrating” that the requests were rejected by the Treasury.

His comments drag the prime minister into the growing scandal over crumbling concrete in schools.

It emerged last Thursday that more than 150 schools had been ordered to either partially or completely close because the “RAAC” concrete used to build them is at risk of collapse.

Appearing on Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, Slater said education officials had asked for funding to replaced between 300 and 400 schools a year because of the problem.

However, they were only given the green light to replace around 100 of them.

He said: “We weren’t just saying there’s a significant risk of fatality, we were saying there was a critical risk to life if this programme is not funded.

“It was frustrating. I thought we would get there in the end because of the quality of the data, the age of austerity was over, Boris Johnson had been appointed prime minister, he wanted to put more money into schools we were told.

“I actually did think we would be able this time to increase the funding for the rebuilding programme.”

However, he said that at the time of the next government spending review, the number of schools in the rebuilding programme was halved.

He said: “The spending review was completed a year after I left the department and I was absolutely amazed to see that the decision made by the government was to halve the school rebuilding programme - down from 100 a year to 50 a year.

“The actual ask in the spending review 2021 was to double to 200 ... but the actual decision that the chancellor took in 2021 was to halve the size of the programme.”

Asked who the chancellor was at the time, Slater said: “Rishi Sunak.”

Lib Dem education spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “This bombshell revelation shows the blame for this concrete crisis lies firmly at Rishi Sunak’s door.

“He slashed funding to repair crumbling classrooms when officials said it needed to be increased. Now children and parents across the country are paying the price for this disastrously short-sighted decision.

“The government must publish the evidence that was provided by officials at the time, and Rishi Sunak must come before parliament today and explain why this potential threat to pupil’s safety was ignored.

“Families seeing their return to school ruined deserve full transparency from the prime minister about his role in this scandal.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “Rishi Sunak bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle: he doubled down on Michael Gove’s decision to axe Labour’s schools rebuilding programme and now the chickens have come home to roost – with yet more disruption to children’s education.”


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