Rishi Sunak hits back at former civil servant who was sacked

Rishi Sunak hits back at former civil servant who was sacked over Covid A-level fiasco after he blamed the Prime Minister for halving school repairs amid concrete crisis

  • Gillian Keegan was made to apologise after a foul-mouthed rant over the crisis 

A former mandarin sacked over the Covid A-level fiasco sought his revenge yesterday as he blamed Rishi Sunak for halving school repairs.

Jonathan Slater, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education from May 2016 to August 2020, said the Treasury had failed to fully fund rebuilding schemes – including while Mr Sunak was chancellor.

He said he was ‘absolutely amazed’ that a decision was made after he left the department to halve the school rebuilding programme. Mr Slater said up to 400 schools a year need to be replaced, but the DfE got funding for 100 while he was the senior official, which was ‘frustrating’.

When he left the department he was ‘optimistic’ that a push for extra funding would be successful – but in fact the number was halved to 50 a year.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The actual ask in the Spending Review of 2021 was to double the 100 to 200 – that’s what we thought was going to be practical at first instance.

Jonathan Slater (pictured), who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education from May 2016 to August 2020, said the Treasury had failed to fully fund rebuilding schemes – including while Mr Sunak was chancellor

Gillian Keegan arrives wearing red for media rounds in Westminster

Gillian Keegan was forced to apologise after a foul-mouthed rant over the crisis

‘I thought we’d get it, but the actual decision that the chancellor took in 2021 was to halve the size of the programme.’

Education secretary Gillian Keegan later apologises for her outburst caught on camera

Mr Sunak insisted that 50 schools a year was in line with what had taken place over the previous decade.

He told reporters that Mr Slater’s attack on his record was ‘completely and utterly wrong’.

‘Actually, one of the first things I did as chancellor, in my first spending review in 2020, was to announce a new ten-year school rebuilding programme for 500 schools,’ the PM said.

‘That equates to about 50 schools a year, that will be refurbished or rebuilt. If you look at what we have been doing over the previous decade, that’s completely in line with what we have always done.’

Mr Slater stepped down in 2020 after then-prime minister Boris Johnson concluded that there was ‘a need for fresh official leadership’ in the department following the A-levels fiasco that year.

It unfolded after grades were calculated using an algorithm developed by watchdog Ofqual, but after widespread student fury, ministers U-turned and based grades on teacher estimates instead. Mr Slater was handed a £278,000 payout to leave in compensation ‘for loss of office’.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a cross government briefing on RAAC in the cabinet room in 10 Downing Street

ducation secretary Gillian Keegan is caught swearing on camera

READ MORE: No10 sends Education Secretary Gillian Keegan out to apologise for hot mic rant where she accused everyone of ‘sitting on their a***’ over concrete chaos only to blame the SCHOOLS for slow response – as aides reveal she was in Spain when crisis erupted

He was one of several senior Whitehall figures who quit during that period, including Simon McDonald, the top Foreign Office mandarin between 2015 and 2020. The career diplomat did not see eye to eye with Mr Johnson, and was reportedly on a No10 ‘s*** list’ because of his anti-Brexit views.

He later accused No10 of not telling the truth over the scandal involving allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former Foreign Office minister Chris Pincher.

Some 104 schools, colleges and nurseries were ordered to close parts of their sites last Thursday amid fears they could collapse because of flawed RAAC concrete. Around 24 of them have been forced to shut their doors completely and find alternative teaching spaces just days before term.

Experts have warned that RAAC should never have been used in any permanent buildings and that it could take weeks to find. Dr John Roberts, former president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘I didn’t think it was ever a material that I would be happy to use as a structural material spanning across openings. It doesn’t resemble ordinary concrete in the slightest.

‘I don’t recall it being marketed as a short-life material. I think that is something that has been determined afterwards.

‘I believe it was missold. I don’t believe it should have been sold as effectively a pre-cast manufactured concrete product. It was inherently, in my view, a risky material to be using.’

The collapse of Singlewell primary school in Gravesend, Kent, in 2018 sparked concerns over the concrete, which was dubbed ‘Aero-like’ after the chocolate bar.

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