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Rishi Sunak to face PMQs test over schools concrete crisis

Rishi Sunak will face Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions for the first time in seven weeks as he comes under pressure to declare what he knew about the crumbling concrete crisis in schools.

The Conservative Party leader has become embroiled in the row after one of his ministers suggested Mr Sunak approved for 50 schools to be rebuilt a year when he was chancellor, rejecting an application for 200 to be given the same treatment.

Concerns over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) have caused more than 100 schools in England to partially or fully shut.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Mr Sunak is likely to be grilled by the Labour leader on the funding made available to tackle faulty classroom concrete (PA)

Mr Sunak is likely to be grilled by the Labour leader on the funding made available to tackle faulty classroom concrete when the two face off on Wednesday for the first time since Parliament returned from its summer break.

Labour has already signalled it will look to use an arcane parliamentary mechanism to discover what the Prime Minister knew about the crisis during his tenure in the Treasury.

Mr Sunak has faced accusations he slashed the school rebuilding programme in half when he was chancellor, providing funding for 100 crumbling schools to be replaced annually when, according to former Department for Education (DfE) permanent secretary Jonathan Slater, 400 needed revamps.

The Prime Minister has rejected the attack on his Treasury record.

Elsewhere, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said under fire Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has “serious questions to answer” after it emerged a company the senior Tory’s husband has links to was handed a £1 million IT contract from a fund earmarked for rebuilding schools.

As reported by the Daily Mirror, which broke the news about the contract, Michael Keegan states on his LinkedIn social media page that he is a non-executive director at technology firm Centerprise.

The company was one of six suppliers awarded contracts earlier this year to replace server infrastructure, with the money coming from the DfE’s school rebuilding programme fund.

Ms Phillipson said: “This appears to be a gross conflict of interest and eyebrows will be raised that the Keegans appear to have gained from a shrinking pot of school rebuilding money.”

Cabinet Meeting
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has come under fire for her handling of the schools concrete crisis (James Manning/PA)

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Mr and Mrs Keegan.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Ministers had no involvement in the procurement process for these contracts, which were awarded in line with existing government commercial procedures.”

It comes after Ms Keegan was forced to apologise after railing against those she said had “sat on their arse and done nothing” about Raac in a sweary outburst on Monday.

Labour will look to increase the scrutiny on Mr Sunak over the Raac crisis with plans to use a humble address motion, a mechanism for demanding papers from government departments.

They want publication of submissions of evidence sent by the DfE to No 10 and the Treasury relating to advice on the construction trouble.

As part of the move, it will also push to see all related correspondence ahead of the 2020 and 2021 spending reviews and the 2022 spring and autumn statements to show what advice Mr Sunak was given as chancellor about the need to replace Raac.

Ms Phillipson said: “Today, we are giving Conservative MPs a choice: to vote with Labour and give parents the right to know about who is responsible for this mess or to vote to conceal the true scale of this crisis and the Prime Minister’s failure to keep our children safe.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson wants papers relating to Raac advice received by the PM (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Mrs Keegan, who has come under fire for her handling of the concrete crisis, defended the Prime Minister’s past actions to protect school building safety.

She said: “As chancellor, the Prime Minister introduced the school rebuilding programmes – delivering 500 schools over the next decade.

“On top of that, the Conservatives have invested £15 billion in schools since 2015.

“In addition, capital spending this year will be almost 29% higher in real terms than last year.”

She continued: “An independent review found Labour’s schools funding programme was badly targeted and complex.

“It did nothing to fix schools in poor condition, particularly those affected by Raac. In contrast the Labour-run Welsh government have sat on their hands and failed to act on schools in Wales.”