The politics of concrete in schools - Business Leader News

The politics of concrete in schools

Simon Danczuk, businessman, author and former MP, discusses the RAAC crisis and the Education Secretary being under fire.

When 1950’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked what the greatest challenge for a statesman was, he replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”

What he meant was events always happen, no matter what, and it’s how you deal with them that counts – and so is the case with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).

The truth is people in Government, the education sector, and construction specialists have known about the potential for RAAC to break up and cause buildings to collapse since the 1980s. Subsequent Governments have failed to take sufficient action to identify exactly which buildings have the problem and to sufficiently fund remediation.

Schools have been collapsing because of RAAC for decades and yet both Labour and Conservative Governments have not taken enough action – until this summer.

Labour’s blame game

Labour has been quick to suggest the RAAC problem is all the fault of Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, that she’s closed ‘at risk’ schools, just before the start of term, and this has jeopardised pupil’s education.

Labour has played a blinder, from a political campaign’s perspective, managing to blame the Conservatives and Keegan for a decade-old RAAC problem.

To be fair, Labour has been ably assisted by a politicised civil service who are determined to damage the Conservative Government. One bitter ex-senior education civil servant went on BBC Radio 4 blaming Rishi Sunak for not spending enough when he was Chancellor, another went to The Guardian saying Conservative Ministers have been too complacent.

    However, Keegan has not always helped herself and it’s previously been suggested in this column that she should be dropped in a future reshuffle.

    Media fiasco

    Conservative Education Ministers were actually proactive in deciding over the summer to close schools at risk – something previous Governments, of any political persuasion, had failed to do.

    However, Keegan going on holiday just as the RAAC issue was coming to a head left her behind the curve. She then failed to come out quickly enough to do media interviews to explain the situation. Finally, when she did do media, in one interview, she swore and said people should thank her for all her hard work – all off camera, but all duly reported.

    At the first Prime Minister’s Questions since Parliament returned from the summer recess, Keir Starmer tried to put further pressure on Rishi Sunak over the issue. Sunak defended his Government well.

    The Profumo Affair is the ‘event’ which ultimately brought down Macmillan’s Conservative Government. As hard as Labour is trying, it seems RAAC is not the ‘event’ which will bring down Sunak’s Conservative Government.

    Simon Danczuk is a businessman, author and former MP who represented the constituency of Rochdale between 2010 and 2017. He has co-written two books, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith and Scandal at Dolphin Square.