Rishi Sunak says it is ‘completely and utterly wrong’ to blame him for school concrete crisis – UK politics live | Politics

Sunak denies not properly funding school repairs as chancellor, saying his plans in line with spending over past decade

In a clip for broadcasters, Rishi Sunak has dimissed claims that he failed to properly fund school rebuilding plans when he was chancellor (see 9.07am) as “completely and utterly wrong”.

Asked to respond to Jonathan Slater, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, saying Sunak had halved the school repair programme, the PM replied:

I think that is completely and utterly wrong. Actually one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new 10-year school re-building programme for 500 schools.

Now that equates to about 50 schools a year, that will be refurbished or rebuilt.

If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.

But Slater was not accusing Sunak of cutting school repair spending below the average annual spend for the past 10 years (a period that included austerity). Slater’s argument was that 50 school repair projects a year was half the previous year’s total, and a quarter of what the Department for Education thought was needed.

In his interview, Sunak also said that 95% of schools would not be affected by the current Raac crisis. And he said schools that did need urgent repairs would not have to fund those from their own budgets. He said:

The chancellor has been crystal clear that schools will be given extra money for these mitigations. It won’t come from their existing school budgets.

There will be extra money to the schools, so the school budget won’t be impacted by this. They will be given the extra money to deal with the mitigations …

In our expectation, 95% of schools won’t be impacted by this.

Key events

Lisa Nandy made shadow cabinet minster for international development

Lisa Nandy has been made shadow cabinet minister for international development. She was shadow levelling up secretary.

Lisa Nandy MP @LisaNandy has been appointed Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development.

Nandy has not been made shadow international development secretary because there is no international development secretary. There used to be one when the Department for International Development was a standalone department, but Boris Johnson merged it with the Foreign Office, in what amounted to a significant downgrading of the status of international development.

Nandy will shadow Andrew Mitchell, the development minister. He attends cabinet, but is not formally a member. Nandy’s title implies she would have full cabinet status.

Last year Starmer said he would recreate DfID as a separate department in its own right. But recently there have been reports saying he may keep it as part of the Foreign Office, on the grounds that that would be less disruptive.

Labour has not said yet what is happening to Preet Gill, the former shadow international development minister.

Sunak faces likely new byelection challenge after Pincher loses appeal against 8-week suspension

Rishi Sunak is facing the prospect of another byelection challenge after the independent expert panel reject Chris Pincher’s appeal against a standards committee report saying he should be suspended from the Commons for eight weeks for groping two men.

Pincher appealed to the IEP, claiming the punishment was disproportionate. In a report out this morning, the IEP says it wasn’t. It says:

We consider the [standards] committee approached this task properly, with the correct considerations in mind, and applying its members’ experience of the House of Commons, fairness and obvious reason to the facts of the case. We consider that the appellant’s arguments are misconceived or erroneous. The sanction is far from being arbitrary or disproportionate.

Because Pincher is being suspended for more than 10 sitting days, a recall election will take place if 10% of constituents sign a petition calling for one. Recent cases suggest that Pincher’s opponents should be able to clear this hurdle easily.

Alternatively, Pincher may decide to resign as an MP. This would also trigger a byelection.

At the last election Pincher had a majority of 19,634 over Labour in his Tamworth constituency, with the Lib Dems in a distant third place. In normal circumstances a majority of that size would be impregnable. But in Selby and Ainsty in July Labour overturned a Tory majority of 20,137.

Angela Rayner promoted to official shadow deputy PM and shadow levelling up secretary

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, has been made shadow levelling up secretary in Keir Starmer’s reshuffle. She will replace Lisa Nandy. Where Nandy’s going, we don’t yet know.

Rayner has also officially been made shadow deputy prime minister. This is significant because, as Harriet Harman discovered when she had the role under Gordon Brown, Labour’s deputy leader does not automatically become deputy prime minister.

Rayner stands in for Starmer when he is not at PMQs, going up against Oliver Dowden, who is deputy prime minister. So she was the de facto shadow deputy PM. And she said in an interview last year that she would be deputy PM in a Labour government “otherwise Keir’s got trouble”. But now it is official.

Until today Rayner was “deputy leader, shadow first secretary of state, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work”, a multi-pronged title she acquired after the reshuffle in 2021 when she successfully negotiated new roles after Starmer tried to demote her.

This is from the Labour party.

Deputy Leader Angela Rayner MP @AngelaRayner has been appointed Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Starmer thanks McMahon, and suggests impact of threats against MP were factor in his resignation from shadow cabinet

And here is Keir Starmer’s reply to Jim McMahon.

Thank you, @JimfromOldham, for your service and support in the shadow cabinet. I have no doubt you will continue to play an important role in the future of @UKLabour and the people of Oldham West & Royton are lucky to have you.

In his letter to Starmer (see 10.29am), McMahon said that he had faced several “personal challenges” in the past year, including a serious illness. He did not directly mention threats to his safety. But Starmer suggested in his response that threats were a factor. He said:

I understand the reasons for your decision. I know that you have faced a number of personal challenges in addition to your frontbench work and that these have taken a personal toll. MPs should never have to deal with abuse or violent threats, and I can appreciate how difficult this must have been for you and your family. You have always risen above this and remained focused on the principles that brought you into politics.

Of course, I am also aware about the ongoing health issues that you have faced. Despite all of these difficulties, you have never wavered in your determination to work, either for your constituents or for me. I am very grateful for this. I know that you will continue to diligently serve our party and your constituents from the backbenches.

Two years ago, in a victim impact statement read out in court, McMahon said dealing with threats and abuse had made him anxious and withdrawn. At the hearing a man who had threatened him on Facebook was sentenced to eight weeks in jail, suspended for 12 months.

Jim McMahon resigns as shadow environment secretary as Starmer’s shadow cabinet reshuffle starts

Jim McMahon says he has resigned as shadow environment secretary. He was one of the shadow ministers who had been tipped for demotion or the sack in the reshuffle Keir Starmer is carrying out today.

He has posted these messages on X, or Twitter as most of us still call it.

As the reshuffle begins, I have written to Keir to take the opportunity to step down from the shadow cabinet. I have been and remain a firm supporter of Keir and the project we have built to offer Britain an electable Labour government after 13 wasted yrs under the Conservatives.

As the reshuffle begins, I have written to Keir to take the opportunity to step down from the Shadow Cabinet.
I have been and remain a firm supporter of Keir and the project we have built to offer Britain an electable Labour government after 13 wasted yrs under the Conservatives. pic.twitter.com/TUx5wWxHSy

— Jim McMahon MP (@JimfromOldham) September 4, 2023

After a testing year I want to focus on getting my health back to full strength so that I can make a full and active contribution to the general election campaign heading towards us, and to prioritise my constituents in Chadderton, Oldham and Royton.

After a testing year I want to focus on getting my health back to full strength so that I can make a full and active contribution to the General Election campaign heading towards us, and to prioritise my constituents in Chadderton, Oldham and Royton.

— Jim McMahon MP (@JimfromOldham) September 4, 2023

Earlier this year McMahon was in hospital for two weeks because of an infection.

Gavin Williamson should apologise for bullying former chief whip during funeral tickets row, watchdog says

PA Media has just snapped this.

Former cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson should apologise to MPs for bullying former chief whip Wendy Morton after he was not allocated tickets to the late queen’s funeral, the independent expert panel said.

The full report is here. I will post more details from it shortly.

Gillian Keegan says she was being ‘very cautious’ when she ordered safety measures for schools with Raac

As mentioned earlier, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, defended the government’s response to the school building crisis during her morning interview round. (See 9.07am.) Here are the main lines from her interviews.

  • Keegan defended the Treasury’s decision to cut funding for school repairs when Rishi Sunak was chancellor. Responding to the criticisms from Jonathan Slater, the former DfE permanent secretary, she said it was normal for departments not to get all the money they wanted. She said:

There’s always a challenge in terms of putting forward your case for funding, and how much you get. And every department will always put forward a case for more than they actually get. What you have to do is demonstrate good value for money.

She also said that she has recently announced 239 school rebuilding projects.

  • She said that she changed the guidance for schools with Raac (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) after new evidence emerged over the summer suggesting that buildings deemed “non-critical” were more dangerous than had been assumed. She was being “very cautious”, she said. She explained:

What happened over the summer is we had three cases – not in schools, some in schools, some not in schools – and I sent structural engineers out to see them, some were in commercial settings, and some in different jurisdictions.

And when they went out to see them, they thought there’d been a failure, but it was in a non-critical setting. So that was new evidence and new information …

So I decided to take a very cautious approach. And I knew it was going to be difficult because, you know, obviously, for parents, for teachers, this coming so late in August, but that’s when we got the evidence that a panel had failed in a roof that had previously been classified as non-critical.

I wasn’t willing to take the risk. It was just one panel, but it was in a roof that had been assessed as non-critical.

  • She said that most schools with Raac problems would remain open. In most of them, only part of a building was affected, she said. She told Sky News:

Most of the schools will be open …

The vast majority of children will be going back today. There will be some where they’ve got quite extensive Raac so they may close so that we can put temporary accommodation in place.

Many schools are either looking for alternative accommodation, if they’re within a multi-academy trust or within a local authority, or moving to another classroom if they’ve got spare classroom.

If it’s across the whole school, then that gets more difficult. So what we’re doing right now is we’ve assigned a caseworker for each one of the schools, for working with the school to figure out what the mitigation plans are.

We’ve now increased to eight surveying companies. We have a national propping company who’s all prepared to go in and prop.

And we have contracted with three Portakabin or temporary accommodation companies who have on stock the Portakabins available.

Gillian Keegan being interviewed this morning.
Gillian Keegan being interviewed this morning. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s education editor, suggests that Jonathan Slater’s interview this morning may in part have been retaliation for the way he was forced to resign after the exam grading row in 2020. Many observers felt Gavin Williamson, education secretary at the time, should have gone instead.

Writing on X/Twitter, Jeffreys says:

It is hard to overstate how extraordinary it is for a former senior civil servant to speak out like this – in part Jonathan Slater is speaking out to make utterly clear their advice over RAAC was ignored & Sunak cut back spending further

It is hard to overstate how extraordinary it is for a former senior civil servant to speak out like this – in part Jonathan Slater is speaking out to make utterly clear their advice over RAAC was ignored & Sunak cut back spending further

— branwen jeffreys (@branwenjeffreys) September 4, 2023

It’s also hard not to hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost – Slater is just one of the respected permanent secretaries forced out by this government- breaking the tradition that ministers took responsibility for their decisions

It’s also hard not to hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost – Slater is just one of the respected permanent secretaries forced out by nest this government- breaking the tradition that ministers took responsibility for their decisions

— branwen jeffreys (@branwenjeffreys) September 4, 2023

Here is Peter Walker’s story about what Jonathan Slater said in his Today interview. (See 9.07am.)

One aspect that was remarkable was that former permanent secretaries are normally reluctant to speak out directly on political matters, or to criticise the ministers for whom they used to work. Or at least that used to be the case. But in recent years ministers have become increasingly willing to attack their officials in public – Suella Braverman, the home secretary, was at it the other day, saying the Bibby Stockholm debacle was all the fault of civil servants – and Slater’s interview may be evidence that the mandarin class is now minded to retaliate.

(Another example would be Simon McDonald, the former Foreign Office permanent secretary, giving an interview last year that triggered the resignation of Boris Johnson.)

Labour says Sunak has ‘huge culpability’ for Raac school building crisis

Good morning. Although, meteorologically, it may not feel like it, in political terms summer is definitely over and, with the Commons recess over, a new Westminster season is starting. Within the next few weeks we are getting the party conferences, a king’s speech and an autumn statement. Polling day is probably coming in just over a year. If you had to identify any day as the start of the long election campaign, today would be as good a choice as any.

Rishi Sunak needs to defend his record as PM. According to polling published by Politico, “two-thirds of people think Sunak has achieved ‘only a slight amount’ or nothing at all in his premiership so far”. But this morning he is facing criticism for decisions he made as chancellor. In a remarkable interview, Jonathan Slater, a former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, told the Today programme that Sunak halved funding for school building repairs – even though the DfE had made a very strong case that new schools had to be built because of the risk to life posed by weak concrete (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, or Raac).

Slater, who was permanent secretary at the DfE from May 2016 to August 2020, said the department thought between 300 and 400 schools needed to be replaced per year. He said the DfE got funding to repair 100 per year. In 2021 it asked for money to fix 200 schools a year, Slater said. He went on:

We know 300 to 400 needed, but the actual ask in 2021 was to double the 100 to 200. I thought we’d get it but the actual decision made in 2021 was to halve down from 100 a year to 50 year.

Asked who was chancellor at the time, Slater confirmed it was Sunak.

I will post more from Slater’s interview shortly. Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has been responding in her own interview round. She told Today that since she had been in the job, she had got an extra £2bn for schools. I will cover what she said in more detail soon.

Commenting on the Slater interview, Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said:

The defining image of 13 years of the Conservative-run education system will be children sat under steel girders to stop the roof falling in.

Rishi Sunak bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle: he doubled down on Michael Gove’s decision to axe Labour’s schools rebuilding programme and now the chickens have come home to roost – with yet more disruption to children’s education.

Labour warned time and again about the risks posed by the crumbling schools estate under the Conservatives but were met with complacency, obstinacy and inaction.

We are also expecting Keir Starmer to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle today. Most of the senior figures in his team, including Phillipson, are not due to move, but Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, is likely to be given a new department to shadow. Currently, she shadows the Cabinet Office minister.

Here are other items on the day’s agenda.

Morning: Sunak is due to record a pooled clip for broadcasters.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: The new MPs elected for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, for Selby and Ainsty and for Somerton and Frome in the byelections in the summer, will be sworn in.

After 3.30pm: Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, is expected to give a statement to MPs about the Raac crisis.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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