Last Updated: September 05, 2023, 00:52 IST
London, Sep 4: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday strongly defended his record in government, dubbing allegations that he cut education funding as “completely and utterly wrong” amid an ongoing crisis over a light-weight concrete that is causing school closures in England and Wales.
Thousands of pupils face disruption at the start of a new term this week after over 100 schools face full or partial closure because of concerns about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which is prone to collapse.
A former senior civil servant in the Department for Education (DfE) alleged that it was under Sunak’s term as Chancellor that the UK Treasury failed to properly fund school rebuilding schemes.
“I think that is completely and utterly wrong. Actually one of the first things I did as Chancellor, in my first Spending Review in 2020, was to announce a new 10-year school rebuilding programme for 500 schools,” said Sunak.
“Now that equates to about 50 schools a year that will be refurbished or rebuilt. And, if you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done,” he said.
The British Indian leader also indicated that extra funding will be made available to schools dealing with the current crisis.
“The Chancellor [Jeremy Hunt] has been crystal clear that schools will be given extra money for these mitigations, it won’t come from their existing school budgets,” noted Sunak, admitting that the timing of the crisis was “frustrating”.
It comes amid mounting pressure from schools and the Opposition Labour Party ever since the RAAC crisis emerged last week.
“The defining image of 13 years of the Conservative-run education system will be children sat under steel girders to stop the roof falling in,” said Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary.
“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,” she said.
The Liberal Democrats said they want to see the evidence from officials in the DfE about school safety.
“Families seeing their return to school ruined deserve full transparency from the Prime Minister about his role in this scandal,” said Lib Dem education spokesperson Munira Wilson.
Meanwhile, UK Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has vowed to publish a list of the schools affected by the concrete crisis this week, even as schools scramble to find makeshift provisions to relocate affected pupils as they return from their summer holidays this week. The minister has indicated that the DfE will foot the bill for repairs and temporary accommodation.
RAAC is a light-weight concrete that was widely in use to build roofs, schools, colleges and other buildings in the UK from the 1950s until the mid-1990s, before it went out of use. An analysis a few years ago found it posed significant risk and replacements were recommended. However, fresh advice last week warned of imminent risk following the collapse of beams in some buildings. PTI AK SCY SCY
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