Exclusive:RAAC schools Scotland: Four schools with RAAC have been waiting since last year for revamp funding from Scottish Government
Close to £300 million was supposed to have been allocated to councils across Scotland by the end of 2022 to replace or refurbish crumbling schools.
But the Government announcement has been repeatedly pushed back due to “market volatility” and the SNP leadership contest triggered by the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.
The Scotsman has learned several schools awaiting a decision on the money are among the 37 in Scotland which have been confirmed to contain reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
They 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.
Campaigners say work to upgrade some of the buildings, and remove any danger posed by RAAC, could be under way by now if ministers had not postponed the funding decision.
Colin Smyth, Labour MSP for South Scotland, has been pressing the Government for a decision on Dumfries Academy.
“This work could have been done long before now if they had stuck to the original timetable,” he said. "At the moment there is actually genuine uncertainty over whether or not this project will go ahead because at the moment they simply don’t have enough council funding allocated to it, and they don’t have any confirmation of what the Scottish Government funding is.
"You’ve got a school here where they are discovering RAAC that we still don’t know is absolutely guaranteed to be refurbished because there is so much uncertainty over the funding.”
Concerns about the safety of buildings containing RAAC, which is much weaker than normal concrete, have been growing since the UK Government ordered the closure of more than 100 schools in England last week.
Councils in Scotland have been putting “mitigation” measures in place, including at Forres Academy, where a number of classrooms have been locked. Meanwhile, Riverside Primary in West Lothian has already closed due to RAAC, with pupils having been relocated to the old Beatlie School as they await a new facility.
The Scottish Government was supposed to announce which new schools would be awarded funding from the third phase of the learning estate investment programme (LEIP3) at the end of last year.
However, the decision was pushed back and councils were told in March that extra time was needed to consider the bids, in part due to the need to take account of the “impact of market volatility”.
The SNP leadership contest and subsequent Cabinet reshuffle then delayed the process again.
Education secretary Jenny Gilruth said she would announce the successful schemes by June, but then missed her own deadline.
Last month, she told The Scotsman she had held talks about the LEIP3 announcement over the summer with First Minister Humza Yousaf and Deputy First Minister Shona Robison.
One source has questioned whether the Scottish Government could now “repurpose” the LEIP3 funding for RAAC removal, which would be likely to mean some school building projects losing out.
However, there may also be an uplift in the amount of money available for revamping Scottish schools under the Barnett formula if the Westminster Government invests heavily in removing RAAC from its schools and other public buildings.
Aberdeen City Council education committee convener Martin Greig, who represents the Hazlehead area of the city, said a bid for LEIP3 funding had been made to replace Hazlehead Academy, but the project was not dependent on the money.
"The outline business case for the new Hazlehead/Countesswells school is due to come to committee in Novemberm” he said. “There is no reason for that not to happen. We will be continuing.”
Mr Greig added: “Sections of Hazlehead Academy are likely to contain RAAC. There are ongoing inspections to check the integrity of all the school buildings which have RAAC and the findings have provided assurances that risks are being appropriately managed.”
The LEIP was first unveiled at the end of 2018, with the Government pledging to invest £1 billion upgrading and replacing schools. The first £275 million phase of the programme involved 12 school building projects, with a second stage worth £430m announced in 2020 that comprised 25 schemes.
The funding usually pays for half of a school building project, with councils footing the rest of the bill from capital budgets and borrowing, as well as developer contributions.
The Scotsman revealed earlier this week the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and West Lothian Council had highlighted concerns about RAAC more than a year ago to the Holyrood Government and local authorities.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The SNP Government have 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 issue. SNP ministers cannot keep passing the buck on RAAC and 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.”
On Tuesday, social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “On the announcement of LEIP phase 3, I hope that everyone across the chamber recognises the very difficult circumstances that exist for all capital projects at the moment – in particular, because of increasing capital costs and construction costs and their implications.
"It is quite right that the Government takes longer than people would perhaps like us to take to ensure that we are getting the maximum out of that project and are looking at it very seriously. The Cabinet secretary will make an announcement on that in due course, when they are ready to do so.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Since 2007, the number of schools in ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ condition has increased from 61 per cent to 90.7 per cent – seeing a 77 per cent reduction in pupils educated in substandard conditions.
"The £2bn investment in the school estate through LEIP is intended to build on that progress. Scottish Government officials wrote to all local authorities in March, to explain that consideration of the projects that would form part of phase three was still ongoing. This set out that further time was necessary to consider the scope of phase three, including to take account of the impact of market volatility on current projects.
“We are currently giving careful consideration to local authorities’ bids for phase three of the learning estate investment programme and intend to announce the successful bids as soon as possible.”
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