'Cowboys are running the country': Starmer slams Sunak's handling of schools' concrete crisis

The prime minister and Labour leader went head-to-head on the schools' Raac crisis, with Sir Keir Starmer accusing Rishi Sunak of being a 'cowboy' running the country, as ITV News' Anushka Asthana reports

Words by Lucy McDaid, ITV News Westminster Producer

Sir Keir Starmer claimed "cowboys are running the country" as he attacked Rishi Sunak for his handling of the schools' concrete crisis - saying "children are cowering" under crumbling roofs.

During a heated Prime Ministers' Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said he "makes no apology for acting decisively" on the problem of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) in schools, and insisted the government is doing "everything it can" to fix it quickly.

It comes as the Department for Education (DfE) published a long-awaited list of the nearly 150 education settings which have been found to have collapse-prone Raac.

The list reveals pupils from 24 schools will receive some remote learning as a result of the issue, with four schools having to switch to online teaching completely.

Sir Keir Starmer claims 'cowboys are running the country' in a heated Prime Ministers' Questions dominated by the Raac crisis in schools

Speaking in the House of Commons on the crisis, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of slashing the budget for school rebuilding when he was chancellor in 2021.

Earlier this week a former senior civil servant claimed Mr Sunak refused to fully fund a school rebuilding programme when he was in charge of the Treasury - an accusation Mr Sunak rebuked as "completely and utterly wrong".

However, Schools' Minister Nick Gibb later admitted the then chancellor approved funding to rebuild 50 schools a year, instead of the 200 that was requested.

Ministers on Wednesday refused to heed calls from Labour to hand over written advice the prime minister was given about the schools when he was chancellor.

Elsewhere, Sir Keir highlighted that schools now found to have Raac would have been replaced under Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which was scrapped by the coalition government in 2010.

Mr Sunak said the scheme would have been "time-consuming and expensive, just like the Labour Party", while he reassured parents that the "vast, vast majority" of schools won't be affected by the current crisis.

Of those identified as being at-risk, 36 schools are in constituencies represented by Conservative MPs, according to analysis by the Liberal Democrats.

The Party said it showed that Tories "have been asleep at the wheel while schools crumble in their own backyard."

Rishi Sunak insists the 'vast, vast majority' of schools will not be affected by the crisis

The row over the crumbling concrete has dominated the news agenda this week, with both Rishi Sunak and his Education Secretary Gillian Keegan under growing pressure to reveal what they knew about it and for how long.

They have consistently insisted they acted on new information, with Mr Sunak saying during Prime Ministers' Questions: "The professional advice from the technical experts on Raac has evolved over time and indeed it is something that successive governments have dealt with, dating back to 1994.

"Now, as new advice has come forward the Government has rightly decisively and swiftly acted in the face of that advice."

On school budgets, Mr Sunak added: "Far from cutting budgets, as he alleges, the amount spent last year was the highest in a decade.

"That spending review... maintained the school rebuilding programme, delivering 500 schools over a decade, a pace completely consistent with what had happened previously."

The prime minister also attacked Sir Keir, claiming Labour has never raised the issue before.

Concluding his remarks, Sir Keir said: "What he won't admit is that the reason he cut these budgets, ignored the warnings is quite simple: just like he thought his tax rises were for other families to pay, he thinks his school cuts are for other families to endure.

"Doesn't it tell you everything you need to know that he's happy to spend millions of taxpayers' money sprucing up Tory offices, billions to ensure there is not VAT on Tory school fees but he won't lift a finger when it comes to protecting other people's schools, other people's safety, other people's children?"

Mr Sunak replied: "I know he comes here with his prepared scripts but he hasn't listened to a single fact on six questions about the record amounts of funding going into schools, about the incredible reforms to education impacting the most disadvantaged children in our society - a record we're rightly proud of."

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