No extra capital cash to help address the RAAC crisis in schools was allocated in today’s autumn statement despite MPs’ demands for a funding package to deal with the crumbly concrete.
The Department for Education’s planned capital spending for the next two years remains unchanged following the statement, which focused on tax cuts for individuals and businesses ahead of next year’s election.
This is despite recent calls from the House of Commons public accounts committee for a funding package and deadline to rid schools of the collapse-prone crumbly concrete.
The government has pledged to rebuild all schools “that need it”, but ministers have been vague about how much they are willing to spend.
Treasury documents published today also suggest there was a £600 million underspend on capital education projects in 2022-23. Spring budget documents estimated a capital spend of £5.9 billion, but today’s papers show the actual spend was £5.3 billion.
This is more than the £321 million underspend the DfE reported in its annual accounts for that year, which they said was “primarily due to slippage of school and college building programmes driven by challenging issues in the construction market”.
No new school revenue funding
Today’s statement also included no further school revenue spending, disappointing unions that had called for a £1.7 billion uplift to school budgets.
At last year’s autumn statement, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a £2 billion increase in school funding in both this year and next. But union leaders warn rising costs mean schools will need more.
The unions pointed to a pledge by the prime minister Rishi Sunak to prioritise education in future spending reviews.
Sunak said last month: “Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet – it is the best economic policy, the best social policy and the best moral policy.”
Although the autumn statement is not a spending review, it is the chancellor’s opportunity to set out his priorities for the year ahead.
‘Virtually nothing for schools’
“Far from being prioritised…education has apparently been sidelined in this announcement,” said NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman.
“There was virtually nothing pledged for schools, and this statement did not touch upon the big challenges facing them, including severe funding pressures, the broken SEND system, and building safety.”
Geoff Barton, from the ASCL leaders’ union, warned “our schools are literally falling apart, thousands of children are being disrupted because of the crumbling concrete crisis, and large parts of the school estate are riddled with asbestos”.
Hunt did announce increased funding to help tackle antisemitism in education. £7 million will go to the Holocaust Educational Trust over three years to “help tackle antisemitism in schools and universities”.
And the Community Security Trust will receive an additional £3 million in funding next year.
Autumn statement documents confirm that departmental resource spending “will continue to grow at 1 per cent a year on average”. School budgets are due to grow by 1.9 per cent next year.