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Pressure mounts on Jeremy Hunt to find new money to repair crumbling schools

MPs have expressed doubts that there will be enough money to cover the cost of repairs to schools affected by the unsafe concrete scandal.

Jeremy Hunt claimed on Sunday that the government will “spend what it takes” to keep children safe from unstable reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

But Treasury sources admitted there would be no new money from the Chancellor to pay for remedial work to buildings containing RAAC, and that the cash would come out of the Department for Education’s existing capital budget.

The DfE has sufficient funds in the capital budget to fund the repairs, a Treasury source insisted.

However, this position was called into question given the full scale of the problem in school buildings was only revealed by the government last week, when it announced that more than 150 schools in England would not reopen for the new term because of RAAC.

It is also not yet known exactly how many schools are at risk because inspection and surveying work is ongoing – raising questions over how the DfE could have already budgeted for repairs.

Some 156 schools will be partially or fully closed while further checks and remedial work is carried out, but it is feared as many as 7,000 schools could be affected.

Last year, leaked emails revealed that DfE had asked the Treasury for £13bn in extra cash to fund repairs to crumbling school buildings. The DfE did not respond to a series of questions from i about how it would fund the remedial work.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will face angry MPs from all parties in parliament on Monday when she updates the Commons about the scandal.

Labour is demanding the government publish the full list of schools affected, but a government source claimed that unions and headteachers do not want it to be revealed.

Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “What I want to say also as Chancellor to parents is that we will spend what it takes to sort out this problem as quickly as possible, to cover whatever costs are required to remove all of this dangerous concrete from schools around the country. We will spend what it takes to make sure that children can go to school safely.”

Ex-Cabinet Minister Dame Priti Patel said: “The key question is when will the government tell local education authorities and schools what they will and will not find.

“Many of the affected schools are maintained local authority schools and single academy trusts which cannot afford the costs of repairs.”

She added: “The safety of all public buildings is paramount and these revelations in particular for schools at the start of the new academic year will cause concern and anxiety for pupils, parents and teachers.

“It is time for the entire government to work together to have a full assessment of the scale and damage of these vital public buildings and start planning for the long term renewal and investment of these neglected buildings.

“It is obvious that buildings degrade over time and there has been an absence of long term planning and maintenance as the running of schools and hospitals have moved to trusts and academies.

“The government must now take the lead and demonstrate they understand the public’s concern and frustration with this deeply concerning situation and provide essential support to the schools that are affected and start the process of renewing and investing capital into public buildings.”

Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza welcomed the funding pledge but said “we shouldn’t even have been in this situation”.

She told the BBC: “Is it really the least to ask to say that we want safe, fit-for-purpose buildings? There’s not enough money in there and it’s not moving quick enough.”

General secretary of the National Education Union Daniel Kebede said: “It is … essential that all costs are covered by Government, not this halfway house where school leaders are uncertain of and unable to trust Government guidance as to what costs will be incurred by their school.”

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “This crisis stems from the Conservatives’ decision to axe Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme and repeated raids on education capital budgets – chickens are now coming home to roost.

“Using already-allocated money to just make safe school buildings with RAAC is funnelling money away from other necessary work to upgrade schools and remove dangerous asbestos, storing up problems for the future.

“The Conservatives must publish everything they knew about this dangerous concrete and the list of affected schools so that this mess can begin to be fixed.”

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