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RAAC And Ruin

RAAC And Ruin

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Already it’s a cliché to say crumbling schools are a metaphor for collapsing government. But just as you think it can’t get any worse, it does. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, thirteen years of Tory underfunding are also ripping apart hospitals and prisons.

Three years ago Rishi Sunak, as Chancellor, announced fifty schools would be refurbished or rebuilt each year.

Last week Private Eye did the sums. And calculated on that basis sorting out all the UK’s schools would take, er, four hundred and forty years.

It’s been known since the 1990s that so-called RAAC concrete, that looks like a glorified Aero bar, has a strictly limited shelf life.

Bubbly then, in very much the wrong sense of the word.

But, because it made construction cheaper and quicker, it seemed a good idea to use it. Provided the time-span caveat was taken seriously.

Which it so plainly hasn’t been, in all manner of public buildings.

No fewer than seven NHS hospitals have already been earmarked as potentially at risk. Which, according to the Liberal Democrats, might pose a problem for nearly two million patients.

And, with some school buildings being propped up with steel girders in the first week of term, the Labour leader’s taunt of ‘sticking plaster politics’ does seem to stick, so to speak.

Then there’s the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan’s colourful contribution to the debate, which got everyone into oo-er missus mode.

Her claim that she’s done a f***ing good job, while others have ‘sat on their arses’, is not, however, wildly helpful to Sunak, given that she was bashing her own Conservative colleagues.

All this feeds into the mix, in regard to the dramatic escape from Wandsworth jug of suspected terrorist and former British Army computer specialist Daniel Abed Khalife.

Clearly the guy’s a helluva good operator, pulling off a stunt like that. But the job might have been a bit trickier if there’d been a few more screws keeping an eye on him.

The Independent Monitoring Boards reported last year that ‘significant staffing problems’ at Wandsworth ‘are adversely affecting the delivery of a consistent regime’.

And an Observer investigation last month found that as many as three-quarters of prisons in England and Wales suffer severe overcrowding and dangerous staff shortages.

It’s also an open secret that the nation’s paying through the nose for housing asylum seekers because the Home Office hasn’t recruited enough people to process their applications.

The sainted Suella Braverman continues to insist it’s everyone’s fault except hers, but then she would, wouldn’t she?

But the claims and counterclaims by politicians of all stripes are as inevitable as they are sometimes questionable. Less so the measured analysis of those above the fray.

Cue the damning verdict of the former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane.

In his judgement, UK has been ‘underinvesting’ in our infrastructure. And therefore the crisis in schools and public buildings was ‘foreseeable’.

‘We fare poorly when it comes to the amount we save as a nation,’ he says, ‘and the amount we invest as a nation. And that’s the main reason why we’re seeing these problems.’

Hear hear, the punters seem to be saying, judging by the latest YouGov poll, which shows fewer than one in five of us believes the government’s handling the crisis well.

Be interesting to see how that translates into votes cast, in the three upcoming by elections which are about as welcome to Sunak as a kick up the bit Ms Keegan was referring to.

One is to replace ex Tory cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, or Mad Nad to her non-friends, whose long-delayed departure came with the mother of all hissy fits, directed at him.

Given that she’s widely known as Dosser Dorries in her constituency, the chances of the party hanging on to what in normal times is a rock-solid Tory seat look a tad tricky.

Same applies to the contest to replace former Conservative whip Chris Pincher. Perhaps aptly named, given that he stands accused of touching up a couple of guys at the Carlton Club.

Then there’s the north of the border beano to find a new face after the ousting of former ScotNat MP Margaret Ferrier, chucked out for breaking Covid travel rules during lockdown.

The Tories have as much chance of winning that as of moseying round the moon on a moped. But Labour might well get lucky.

No one disputes that the SNP’s star is currently on the wane, with questions about their finances and former leader Nicola Sturgeon still unresolved.

The nickname ‘Useless’ for her replacement Humza Yousaf doesn’t much help either.

And what’s at stake here could well impact heavily on the outcome of the next general election, because Scotland used to be very much Labour heartlands.

They got pushed right off their perch in 2015, when the nationalists snatched forty of their forty-one seats.

But the latest Redfield/Wilton poll suggests Labour’s now on course to overtake the SNP as the largest Scottish party at Westminster. Little wonder Starmer’s licking his lips.

For all that, there is a golden prize potentially in prospect right now for Rishi Sunak. Both for him and the world.

Just as the Ukrainians seem edging towards a major strategic victory over the marauding invaders, Sunak could just help deprive the aggressor of a substantial ally.

Back in the land of his forefathers, for the G20 summit of rich countries, he’s hoping to talk the Indian Prime Minister into changing his attitude to the mass murderer in the Kremlin.

It’s unlikely there’ll be a formal shift in India’s policy of neutrality in the war, given the two nations’ ties that go back to Soviet days.

But if the private pow-wow between the two PMs results in Russian oil and weapons exports to such a major trading partner being choked off, Sunak’s trip will have been well worthwhile.

It’ll also, for him, make a nice change from so many other non-results that he could be forgiven for seeing a parallel between his efforts and those of Florida resident Reza Baluchi.

He was prevented by the feds last month from trying to run across the Atlantic Ocean in his giant, home-made sort of glorified hamster wheel.

Yes, you did read that right. Run. Some six thousand miles. Across the sea. Oh, and by the way, he’d set off just as a hurricane was on its way.

Odds stacked against him? Just a tad.

Closer to home, meanwhile, the Old Bill picked up another unlikely traveller, in North Wales, last week.

Stuart Gilmour was arrested in Colwyn Bay for riding his bike stark boldly naked.

In the event, the naturist, who styles himself ‘The Naked Cyclist’, wasn’t breaking any laws, and was undertaking the trip to raise money for a mental health charity.

So it was all a bit of a misunderstanding. Afterwards, far from being outraged or traumatised by the experience, Mr Gilmour insisted the police were ‘absolutely lovely’.

Hats off to them then. And everything else, in his case.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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