Sheffield council bosses fear they will be financially penalised for putting “children’s safety first” and repairing a RAAC school before the government committed to reimbursing costs.
Sheffield City Council began a £620,000 project to replace reinforced aerated autoclaved concrete (RAAC) planks from Abbey Lane Primary’s roof in July.
About two months later, the government ordered schools with the crumbly material to close with chancellor Jeremy Hunt promising to “spend what it takes” to remove the material.
But Sheffield education chiefs believe they may not be reimbursed, having used cash from the £3.5 million for capital projects they receive each year from the Department for Education.
‘We took action before RAAC was critical national issue’
“We asked the DfE for retrospective funding, but at this stage there are no retrospective reimbursements for affected schools where RAAC has been removed or replaced and paid for out of existing condition funding,” a council spokesperson said.
“If we don’t receive reimbursement…we will have been financially penalised for acting … at an early stage. We were putting our children’s safety first before it became a critical national issue.”
The spokesperson added that work at other schools had to be delayed.
She estimated inflation and the rising cost of materials would force the authority to fork out an extra £130,000 when it did begin the deferred schemes.
A tender for the work at Abbey Lane, published in June, said a temporary cooking area and classroom would be built, before the RAAC was removed. Contractors are expected to finish at the start of December.
Government promised to ‘spend what it takes’
The DfE escalated its RAAC policy at the end of August by ordering 104 schools to partially of fully close days before the start of the new academic year. The decision was triggered by three cases of the concrete collapsing “without warning”, despite being considered non-critical.
Afterwards, Hunt told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg the government would “spend what it takes to make sure children can go to school safely”. Treasury officials confirmed the funding would have to come from within the DfE’s existing budget.
DfE guidance states it will fund refurbishment or rebuilding projects “where these are needed to rectify RAAC in schools and colleges for the long term”.
It will also bankroll “emergency mitigation work needed to make buildings safe, including the installation of alternative classroom space where necessary”. The cash will be in addition to separate school condition funding.
The department has been approached for comment.