Sunak was warned children in danger from crumbling concrete but ignored it – ex mandarin

Sunak was warned children in danger from crumbling concrete but ignored it – ex mandarin

Rishi Sunak was warned of a “critical risk to life” from crumbling schools when he was chancellor, it has been claimed.

He was involved in a decision to slash spending on school repairs – AFTER being told pupils” lives were in danger from falling concrete.


The bombshell allegation was made by a whistleblowing ex mandarin at the Education Ministry.

It put Mr Sunak in the direct political firing line as the crumbling concrete crisis engulfs the government. The PM said it is “completely and utterly wrong’’ to suggest that he is to blame for failing to fully fund a programme to rebuild England’s schools when he was chancellor.

But Jonathan Slater, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, said officials were aware of the need to rebuild between 300 and 400 schools a year while Mr Sunak was in the Treasury from 2019 to 2022.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme DfE was denied the funding to fix the schools.

“It was frustrating,” said Mr Slater, whose voice was breaking with emotion as he spoke of his “frustration” at the way his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.


He said the ministry had asked for cash to rebuild 300-400 schools per year after discovering the scale of the crumbling concrete crisis.

But the Treasury would only provide money for 100 a year and in 2021 – when Mr Sunak was Chancellor – it was cut further to just 50 even though the department had asked it to be doubled to 200 for safety reasons.

Mr Slater said he was “absolutely amazed at the decision made by the Chancellor”.

Asked to spell out who was the Chancellor, he replied: “Rishi Sunak.”

“We weren’t just saying there is a significant risk of fatality, we were saying there is a critical risk to life if the (rebuilding) programme is not funded,” he said.


“When I was Permanent Secretary in 2018 a concrete block fell from the roof of a primary school so it wasn’t just a risk, it was actually starting to happen.

“It was frustrating – as you can hear from my voice.”

He said the Conservatives ‘top political priority in education” when the crumbling concrete problem first emerged was not fixing it but delivering its 2015 manifesto pledge to create new style so called “free schools.”

“For me that should have been second to safety.

“I was absolutely amazed to see the decision made the year I left (his post at the DfE) was to halve the school rebuilding programme from 100 a year to 50.”


Mr Sunak was appointed Treasury Chief Secretary in July 2019 when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and was promoted to Chancellor in February 2020.

Mr Slater saidthe department for education (DfE) carried out a survey a decade ago of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in schools.

“A second survey was commissioned in my time, and we saw that the backlog of repairs had increased,” he added.


Mr Slater said officials “knew what was needed” and called for a “proper school rebuilding programme” to avoid situations such as the current crisis.

But despite then prime minister Boris Johnson wanting to put more money into schools, and the quality of data illustrating the problem, the department was allocated just a quarter of what it required.


Mr Slater’s shocking intervention comes as millions of pupils return to school this week despite fears that “thousands” more buildings are at risk of collapse from crumbling concrete.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Sunday refused to be drawn on how many buildings were affected as he rejected accusations that government cuts were to blame.

He insisted that the government had acted to close more than 100 schools known to have the potentially dangerous RAAC as soon as they were alerted.

And on Monday education secretary Gillian Keegan vowed to publish a list of the schools affected by the concrete crisis this week.

Asked whether it is possible that parents will send their children to a school without knowing it is on the list, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, we’re hoping that’s not the case, because we’ve spoken via the caseworker with each one of the schools and we’ve given them the template (letter to inform parents) and we’re just going to double-check that.


“We will publish the list, but I do want to double-check that the school has had the opportunity – because not all the schools are back yet – to tell all parents.”

Pressed further, she said: “We’ll publish it this week.”

Labour said children being sat under steel girders to stop roofs falling in was the “defining image of thirteen years of the Conservative-run education system”.

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.”

And she called on ministers to “come clean” about the total number of schools affected, what they knew and when they knew.


She also doubled down on the party’s bid to personally link Rishi Sunak with the RAAC crisis which has forced more than 100 schools to close.

On Sunday, Labour launched its latest attack ad, claiming Mr Sunak does not think schools should be safe

(Labour Party)

Analysis by the party, based on figures from the National Audit Office, showed spending on school rebuilding in 2019-20 was £765 million, but after Sunak became Chancellor this dropped to £560 million in 2020-21 and as little as £416 million in 2021-22, a fall of 41 per cent overall.

Labour said the cuts came despite warnings from the Department for Education that the cost of returning schools to satisfactory conditions would double between 2015-16 and 2020-21.


It came a day after the party launched its latest attack ad, claiming Mr Sunak does not think schools should be safe.

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete that was used in construction from the 1950s until the mid-1990s.

It is weaker than regular concrete which is used as a building material and has been described as “80 per cent air” and “like an Aero Bar”.

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