Rishi Sunak has defended himself against accusations he failed to fully fund a programme to rebuild England’s schools, while his education secretary was caught swearing on camera about the coverage of the row.
The Prime Minister on Monday dismissed claims about his record as chancellor made by a former senior official at the Department for Education, claiming the suggestion is “completely and utterly wrong”.
Jonathan Slater, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education from May 2016 to August 2020, claimed the Treasury had failed to support school rebuilding schemes – including while Sunak was chancellor.
Slater said he was “absolutely amazed” that a decision was made after he left the department to halve the school rebuilding programme.
But Sunak told broadcasters: “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 re-building programme for 500 schools.
“Now that equates to about 50 schools a year, that will be refurbished or rebuilt.
“If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.”
Sunak said that 95% of schools would not be affected by the issue.
He also said that there will be “extra money” for schools, but failed to say whether it could come from the Treasury or Department for Education.
“The Chancellor has been crystal clear that schools will be given extra money for these mitigations. It won’t come from their existing school budgets,” the Prime Minister said.
“There will be extra money to the schools, so the school budget won’t be impacted by this. They will be given the extra money to deal with the mitigations.”
He added: “In our expectation, 95% of schools won’t be impacted by this.”
That would suggest that ministers may have concerns regarding around 1,100 school sites.
Meanwhile, education secretary Gillian Keegan has been caught on camera voicing her frustrations about coverage of the crumbling concrete row.
In footage released by ITV News filmed as the camera repositioned for extra shots, Keegan – still wearing her microphone – criticised others and claimed the Government had gone “over and above” in addressing concerns relating to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
She said: “Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?
“No signs of that, no?”
The Education Secretary took part in a series of broadcast interviews on Monday morning about the decision to fully or partially close schools in England because of safety concerns about Raac.
The Labour Party leader said ministers appeared to be attempting to “pass the buck” for school building closures caused by the concrete issue.
Sir Keir Starmer, asked by broadcasters in Westminster about Ms Keegan’s remarks, said: “I think this whole situation is descending into farce.
“The Government has dropped the ball here, failed to prepare.
“The Prime Minister bears responsibility for some of the key decisions along the way.
“And instead of coming out today and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do to fix the problem, which we have made a lot worse’, you’ve got members of the Cabinet coming out trying to blame other people, trying to blame people within their own teams and to say, essentially, ‘Put responsibility anywhere but on the Government’.
“That is not what Britain deserves.
“And obviously what is now being said shows the extent to which there is this passing the buck within the Cabinet. Is Rishi Sunak strong enough to do anything about it? I doubt it.”
Asked whether Ms Keegan should remain in post following her unguarded comments, Sir Keir said that was the Prime Minister’s decision to make.
Press Association – Dominic McGrath and David Hughes