The school concrete crisis is looming large over Downing Street, with accusations directed at Rishi Sunak for reducing repair budgets and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan apologizing for her remarks. As students across England returned to school, concerns about the government’s response to the deteriorating concrete panels in schools have intensified.
Former Department for Education (DfE) officials revealed that the Treasury, under Sunak’s leadership, scaled down funding for repairs, initially requested for 300 to 400 at-risk schools, to just 50 in 2020 and 2021. These concrete panels are seen as posing “a critical risk to life.”
Keegan faced criticism after candid comments made to a TV reporter, where she expressed frustration over colleagues’ inaction. While she later apologized for her choice of words, it drew attention to the government’s handling of the crisis.
Jonathan Slater, the former top civil servant at the DfE, disclosed that the DfE presented evidence of the concrete deterioration’s seriousness to the Treasury but saw their request reduced significantly. This move raised questions about priorities, as ministers seemed to favor new free schools.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted a broader decline in school building spending over the years. Capital spending has decreased by roughly a quarter in real terms since the mid-2000s and is currently 50% below the 2010 peak.
Downing Street argues that only a limited number of schools, “hundreds, not thousands,” will be affected by the crumbling concrete panels. However, there is growing concern about the extent of the issue, especially with a list of affected schools yet to be published.
The crisis extends beyond schools, as there is limited information on other public buildings potentially at risk due to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). The Ministry of Justice’s audit of court buildings, which has expanded to include structures built into the 1990s, illustrates the broader implications of this problem.
In Wales, officials expressed frustration at not being informed of new safety concerns regarding Raac before the current alert, highlighting a broader need for transparency and proactive responses to infrastructure challenges.
The crisis surrounding crumbling concrete panels is not just an issue of logistics; it has raised questions about government competence and the importance of prioritizing essential infrastructure repairs.
The full extent of the crisis and the government’s response remain topics of ongoing scrutiny and debate.