Sunderland’s Labour Group has condemned the government for ‘knowingly putting children at risk’ amid a safety crisis impacting thousands of schoolchildren nationally, and forcing more than 100 schools to close.
The Group’s leader, Councillor Graeme Miller, has spoken out about its own £35mn investment programme in schools, after years of under-investment by government. He said the council had taken a ‘positive decision to step in’ after seeing that a number of schools in the city were ‘crumbling around students’. The investment funded the building of six new schools across the city.
104 schools across the country are closed this morning due to the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – a lightweight form of concrete used between the 1950s and 1990s that is known to be potentially dangerous and at risk of collapse.
Tied up in knots
Councillor Miller said the government had ‘tied itself up in knots’ by failing to invest in schools, with reports now suggesting that – during his time as Chancellor – PM Rishi Sunak was warned of a ‘critical risk to life’ two years ago.
He said: “This is the government of underinvestment. Look at our police, our health service, and now our schools. They’re all ailing under the pressure created by a government that seems intent on starving all essential public services of resources. Schools are literally crumbling, and this is now a ‘propping up’ job, that I have no doubt will have to be remedied by an incoming Labour government next year. It’s a shambles.
In Sunderland, the ruling Labour Group took matters into its own hands, committing a huge amount of its capital resources into its schools.
“Investing in schools is an investment in our future, and we knew that the public would want its money invested in the next generation. But the fact is, that local authorities – already underfunded – should not have to take these decisions. The government should be investing in vital infrastructure like our school buildings. Not only are many simply not designed in a way that works for modern teaching, but, as we knew in Sunderland and as we are now discovering at the worst possible time, right at the start of the school term, many schools nationally are an accident waiting to happen. This is shameful and it is down to this woeful Government.”
The comments come after Education Secretary Rt Hon Gillian Keegan admitted that hundreds more schools could be closed, as the Government finally gets to grips with the scale of the RAAC crisis.
“Patching up schools and promising to rebuild them later is, frankly, too little too late and yet-more evidence of a Government that lurches from one crisis to the next – all of which is of their own making.”
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