UK PM Sunak defends school rebuilding record over crumbling concrete fears

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday denied refusing to rebuild more schools after claims he ignored warnings that lightweight concrete used in many buildings had left children in danger.

The government, which has been accused by opposition parties of failing to prioritise child safety, published for the first time a list of 147 schools in England that have the potentially dangerous concrete which was commonly used during the 1960s-80s.

The figures show 104 of the schools continue to provide face-to-face education on site or nearby, while 24 have some form of remote learning in place and 19 have delayed the start of the school term.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Sunak of cutting in half the budget to rebuild schools when he was finance minister, repeating a claim made earlier this week by a former senior government official in the education ministry.

Speaking in parliament at the weekly prime minister’s questions, Starmer said the situation was like one where you have cowboy builders who have done substandard work, only in this case “the cowboys are running the country”.

Sunak said his opponent should “get his facts straight” before he “jumps on the next political bandwagon”.

“This is exactly the kind of political opportunism that we have come to expect,” Sunak said. “Before today he never once raised this issue with me in parliament.”

The prime minister said the funding for school maintenance rebuilding will rise by about a fifth over the duration of this parliament and last year’s spending was the highest in a decade.

Opposition parties said the school closures were evidence of under-investment in public services by the Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)