Shadow education secretary fails to pledge Labour will spend ‘whatever it costs’ to rebuild schools with unsafe concrete

7 September 2023, 17:57

The shadow education secretary has refused to promise Labour will spend 'whatever it costs' to rebuild schools.
The shadow education secretary has refused to promise Labour will spend 'whatever it costs' to rebuild schools. Picture: Global/Getty/Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The shadow education secretary has failed to promise Labour will spend ‘whatever it costs’ to rebuild schools if they get into power in the next election.

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It comes after a list of 147 schools identified with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) was published by the Department for Education on Wednesday.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told LBC’s Tom Swarbrick that Labour “will absolutely” have a plan in place to rebuild schools if they are elected into government but would not commit to spending “whatever it costs”.

The government announced last week that schools across England would have to close or partially close due to concerns about the Raac.

It became a serious issue after a roof at a primary school in Gravesend, Kent, collapsed just days before the return to the new school term after signs of structural stress the day before.

School building owners were then asked to check about Raac in their sites.

When pressed on how Labour would handle rebuilding schools if voted into power, Ms Phillipson said Labour would put a "plan" in place but declined to confirm any further details.

"We will absolutely have a plan to sort out our schools and to deliver better education for our children," she said.

Read more: Welcome to 'Great Britain': Crumbling schools, undrinkable water, and a terror suspect on the loose, writes Nick Ferrari

Read more: Sunak accused of 'cowboy' approach to concrete crisis at ill-tempered PMQs as full list of affected schools released

Shadow Education Secretary refuses to promise Labour will spend 'whatever it costs' to rebuild schools affected by Raac if they get into power

“We will make sure that everything we set we’ve got a plan behind in terms of how we pay for it alongside that. But I dont even know the scale of the problem, the government doesn’t even know the scale of the problem.”

She continued: “We need to get there first and I think people would understand that I can’t from opposition, outside of the Department for Education, without access to all the documents, the civil servants and much more besides, set out a rebuilding programme that’s just not achievable.”

The government repeatedly refused to publish a full list of the schools affected by the dangerous concrete last week, despite facing calls to "come clean".

It follows Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s comments over the weekend as he promised to “spend what it takes” to deal with the dangerous concrete.

The government has faced continued calls to speed up inspections to identify the concrete in schools after it admitted on Sunday it could be months before the full extent of the crisis is known.

Ms Phillipson said her party wants to see how far the current government gets addressing the crisis before the next election before she commits to a rebuilding strategy.

Labour has previously accused ministers of “shrugging their shoulders” in response to the concrete crisis, as it said its MPs had repeated warnings about the outdated concrete.

Raac was used in the latter half of the 20th century but it was suspected of not being useful beyond a lifespan of about 30 years. Comparisons have been made with the inside of an Aero chocolate bar.

It is thought hundreds more schools may be identified with the concrete after building surveys.