RAAC: Money set aside for replacing crumbling Scottish schools could be diverted to RAAC repairs
First Minister Humza Yousaf has revealed the number of schools containing RAAC has risen to 40 and that funding earmarked to replace schools across Scotland could now be used to pay for the removal of the weak concrete material.
He told MSPs that long-awaited decisions on new investment in school building projects would be made “through a RAAC lens”. The move could deal a blow to some of the many communities hoping for funding to replace or revamp dilapidated schools that do not contain reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which is prone to structural failure.
The Scotsman revealed on Thursday that at least four of the schools confirmed to contain the “bubbly” material have been waiting since last year for funding for rebuilds or redevelopment under the Government’s stalled learning estate investment programme (LEIP). An announcement on the third and final phase of the £1 billion fund, which is worth close to £300 million, is more than eight months late.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, saying: "Those schools are still waiting, so this must be dealt with urgently.”
Mr Yousaf responded: “In terms of the school estate, we will be making a decision on LEIP imminently, but we are also now looking at that programme through a RAAC lens. I think it is important for us to do so.”
The First Minister also confirmed the number of schools found to contain the “bubbly” material had risen from 37 to 40.
Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville later used at statement at Holyrood to criticise the UK Government over its “insulting” lack of engagement with SNP ministers over its decision to close schools in England.
She highlighted the Holyrood Government was not told about a falling plank at Dunblane’s Queen Victoria School, which is run by the Ministry of Defence.
Ms Somerville also confirmed that RAAC surveys being carried out in NHS buildings across Scotland would not be completed for six to eight months, although the Government was looking for opportunities to “expedite” the process if possible.
On schools, buildings waiting for LEIP funding which also have been found to contain RAAC include Forres Academy in Moray, Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen, and Riverside Primary in Livingston – which have all been earmarked for replacement – as well as Dumfries Academy, which is due for refurbishment.
Mr Yousaf’s comments suggest these schemes are likely to be prioritised by the Government.
Moray Council leader Kathleen Robertson said: “I think it would be eminently sensible to take RAAC as a consideration. But really it should be an absolute matter of urgency that LEIP funding is announced. We’ve waited far too long.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: “SNP ministers been aware of the issue of dangerous concrete for a while, so spending decisions on these schools should have been a top priority for ministers. Instead, pupils, teachers and school staff could be at risk as a result of the SNP’s failure to address this problem.
"SNP ministers cannot keep passing the buck or shifting blame on RAAC and must urgently confirm a timetable to tackle the problem so this dangerous material will be removed from schools – and other public buildings – as soon as possible.”
The First Minister’s comments will also concern some councils and communities who might fear losing out on money for replacing schools which do not contain RAAC.
Highland Council is bidding for money for five new schools – primaries at Beauly, Dunvegan on Skye and Park at Invergordon, as well as a primary for the new town at Tornagrain and a long-awaited replacement for St Clement’s School in Dingwall.
Aberdeenshire Council, meanwhile, has made funding bids for a new primary at Stonehaven and another at Fraserburgh.
As well a replacement for Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen City Council has submitted applications to support the planned refurbishment of the existing Riverbank School.
In South Lanarkshire, there are bids for expansions of Holy Cross High, and St Andrew’s and St Bride’s high schools, as well as a new social, emotional and behavioural needs building at Kear School, Blantyre.
North Lanarkshire Council has applied for £19m towards an extension to Chryston High and to build a new Gartcosh community hub primary school.
Fife Council is hoping for investment in its Glenrothes secondary schools, Renfrewshire Council is seeking to replace Thorn Primary, and Orkney Islands Council wants an additional support needs centre at Kirkwall.
Dundee City Council made a funding proposal for Western Gateway Primary School, while Argyll and Bute Council wants help to build a new campus for Mull, and East Ayrshire Council hopes to create a new facility at north-west Kilmarnock.
Falkirk Council wants to extend Carrongrange High School, West Lothian Council is seeking help to build a new primary and nursery at Craigshill in Livingston, Clackmannanshire Council is planning a replacement for Lochies School, and East Renfrewshire hopes to upgrade Carolside and Cross Arthurlie primary schools.
The Scotsman reported earlier this week the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had warned the Government about the dangers posed by RAAC more than a year ago.
Mr Yousaf confirmed on Thursday that ministers had known about RAAC for “years”. The First Minister also said the Government was working with local authorities to publish the names of the 40 schools, and mitigations in place, by the end of the week.
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