Jeremy Hunt 'refuses to speculate' on true number of schools with unsafe concrete

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt refused to say how much fixing the RAAC crisis will cost but said the government will 'spend what it takes'

A general view of Parks Primary School in Leicester which has been affected with sub standard reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). More than 100 schools, nurseries and colleges in England have been told by the Government to close classrooms and other buildings that contain an aerated concrete that is prone to collapse. Picture date: Friday September 1, 2023.
Parks Primary School in Leicester, which has been affected by the RAAC crisis. (Alamy)

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has refused to be drawn on the total number of schools impacted by the crumbling concrete crisis affecting schools across England.

As schools return from the summer holidays next week, thousands of pupils will have to study from home after the government ordered the closing of more than 100 schools found to contain an unsafe material called Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).

In total 156 schools were found to contain the lightweight building material, with 104 requiring urgent action and 52 already undergoing repair works.

This could be the tip of the iceberg, with a report in the Mirror suggesting as many as 7,000 "at risk" schools are yet to be checked for RAAC, suggesting the government is struggling to keep up with the crisis.

However, on Sunday Hunt refused to be drawn on the true number of schools with unstable concrete, insisting that the government will take action immediately if more cases come to light.

"I don't want to speculate on these numbers because I don't want to scare people unnecessarily," the Chancellor told BBC One's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt at the Infected Blood Inquiry in London where he is being questioned on the Government's response to the use of infected blood and blood products and the question of compensation. Picture date: Friday July 28, 2023. (Photo by Jordan Pettitt/PA Images via Getty Images)
Jeremy Hunt has insisted the government will 'spend what it takes' to tackle the problem. (Getty Images)

He also wouldn't say exactly how much fixing this crisis would cost, but insisted: "We will spend what it takes to sort out this problem as quicky as possible. We will spend what it takes to make sure that children can go to school safely."

Hunt added that the majority of the 104 schools undergoing urgent repair work were still able to "operate face-to-face", although it was not clear exactly in what form this would take place.

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Despite his assurances, the government has been accused of not being clear enough about the true scale of the problem, which is affecting a number of other public sites, including hospitals, court buildings, prisons, and some social housing.

Pressing Hunt on this issue on Sunday morning, Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips said: "What you've said so far adds up to a simple statement - You don't know.

"You don't know how many schools, you don't know how many hospitals, and worst of all you don't know which ones. I think you owe it to the public to sometimes say, 'we just don't know'."

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Defending the government's handling of the problem, the chancellor replied: “I don’t think that’s a fair characterisation.

"I’m telling you what the government has been doing is an exhaustive programme of contacting every school to try and identify where the risk is and acting immediately (if) we find the information.

"Now obviously we might find new information in the weeks or months ahead. We will act on it. But in terms of the information that we have in front of us to date we have acted immediately. We will continue to act, we will continue to invest."

He added: "As soon as problems have been identified we’ve started a huge survey of every single school in the country so we could identify where these problems are.

"And I think it’s very important to reassure parents that where there is an issue as soon as we find out about it we will act."

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Insistences the government it has done everything it can to tackle the problem has not left Labour satisfied, with the opposition party planning to force a vote to compel No 10 to publish a full list of schools affected by RAAC - a lightweight material used to build public buildings from the 1950s to the mid-1990s.

This suggests the row will escalate when Parliament returns from its summer recess on Monday, 4 September, with Labour planning to put forward a humble address – an arcane parliamentary mechanism which can be used to demand papers from government departments.

Appearing on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: "Ministers need to come clean, be upfront and be honest with parents about what we’re facing right now.”

She added: "I think we need to be upfront, have that full list, and be absolutely clear about what’s going on and if we need further surveys to take place in order to determine the full scale of what’s happened then so be it."