Keir Starmer likens government to ‘cowboy builders’ over concrete crisis | Raac (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete)

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Keir Starmer has likened Rishi Sunak’s government to a group of “cowboy builders” during a prime minister’s questions in which the Labour leader sought to portray the prime minister as out of touch over the concrete crisis.

Starmer also contrasted the chaos faced in the state system with the private education enjoyed by the PM and his children, saying Sunak neglected the problem because he saw it as a problem affecting “other people’s children”.

During a PMQs in which he used all of his questions to lambast Sunak over the issue, Starmer said: “On the one hand, we have him saying it’s nothing to do with him. On the other side, we have the facts.

“The truth is, this crisis is the inevitable result of 13 years of cutting corners, botch jobs, sticking-plaster politics. It’s the sort of thing you expect from cowboy builders, saying that everyone else is wrong, everyone else is to blame, protesting they’ve done an effing good job, even as the ceiling falls in.

“The difference is that in this case, the cowboys are running the country.”

The Labour leader said that years of inaction over rebuilding schools constructed with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) had left them at risk of collapse – while the Department for Education’s (DfE) headquarters is reportedly undergoing a £34m refit.

“Doesn’t it tell you everything you need to know, that he’s happy to spend millions in taxpayers’ money sprucing up Tory offices, billions to ensure there’s no VAT on Tory [private] school fees, but he won’t lift a finger when it comes to protecting other people’s schools, other people’s safety, other people’s children?” Starmer asked.

Elsewhere in an often combative session, Starmer argued that Sunak was directly responsible for much of the crisis due to his decision, as chancellor, to slash a DfE request for funding to rebuild hundreds of schools a year, reducing it to 50.

Starmer cited the case of a school in Kent, where a Raac-built ceiling collapsed in 2018, saying: “Everyone knew the problem existed in other schools. Yet the prime minister decided to halve the budget for school maintenance just a couple of years later. Does he agree with his education secretary that he should be thanked for doing a good job?”

In response, Sunak said the government was “doing everything it can to fix this quickly and minimise the disruption to children’s education”, and said the decision to order more than 100 schools to partly or wholly close shortly before the start of term was made due to fresh concerns about the safety of Raac-built structures.

“We make no apology for acting decisively in the face of new information,” he said.

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Sunak also said he had significantly increased the budget for the maintenance and rebuilding of schools, and claimed Labour had never mentioned the issue of Raac in parliament.

Starmer – who said Labour had devoted more than 100 parliamentary questions and an opposition day debate to Raac – used his six questions to list a series of Raac-affected schools due to have been rebuilt by a Labour programme that was cancelled by the Conservatives in 2010.

Referring to the DfE refurbishment, Starmer said: “Can he explain to parents whose children aren’t at school this week why he thinks a blank cheque for a Tory minister’s office is better use of taxpayers’ money than stopping schools collapsing?

“I think he just doesn’t get how this ‘It’s all fine out there’ is so at odds with the lived experience of millions of working people across this country.”

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