Health Secretary Steve Barclay has come to the defense of former Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the face of mounting allegations that he obstructed the rebuilding of public structures affected by deteriorating concrete. These allegations revolve around the reported denial of funding for the reconstruction of hospitals plagued by the structural issues of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
Recent revelations, as reported by The Guardian, suggest that Prime Minister Boris Johnson halted plans to reconstruct five hospitals grappling with the vulnerabilities associated with Raac in 2020. According to the paper, out of seven hospital redevelopment initiatives endorsed by the Department for Health, only two received the green light from the Treasury during the 2020 spending review.
Health Secretary’s Response:
Health Secretary Steve Barclay vehemently refuted the allegations, dismissing them as “inaccurate.” However, he did acknowledge that the five remaining hospitals were subsequently incorporated into a rebuilding program at a later stage. Barclay asserted that a £700 million fund for replacement was established by Chancellor Sunak, commencing in 2021. The government’s proactive approach involved hospital inspections dating back to 2019, aligning with guidance from the Institute for Structural Engineers, which indicated that not all Raac structures needed immediate replacement. Instead, monitoring and assessment were to be employed, with replacement only deemed necessary in cases of deterioration.
Barclay stated, “Once we learned that knowledge, those schemes entered the software, resulting in a sizable investment, particularly in Raac.”
A government spokesperson echoed the Health Secretary’s sentiment, labeling the claims as “untrue” and asserting that funding decisions were not rebuffed by the Treasury or Chancellor Sunak. They emphasized that these decisions were integrated into the broader New Hospitals Programme.
Opposition’s Call for Clarification:
Despite these rebuttals, opposition parties have called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide clarification on the matter. This incident adds to a series of funding-related controversies involving Chancellor Sunak, including allegations of rejecting funding requests for school rebuilding projects during his tenure at the Treasury.
The Raac issue continues to cast a shadow over government decisions, with heightened scrutiny concerning the presence of this material in various public buildings and infrastructure, notably schools. The Liberal Democrats have condemned the situation as a “disgrace” and called upon Rishi Sunak to address Parliament and explain his role in blocking hospital reconstruction plans.
Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper remarked, “This concrete crisis has the imprint of Rishi Sunak. He must go before the legislature and defend his decision to obstruct efforts to renovate ailing hospitals, endangering both patients and workers.”
Amidst mounting pressure and allegations, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has defended the government’s handling of Raac-related hospital reconstruction, asserting that a proactive approach involving monitoring and targeted replacement was the prudent course of action. Nevertheless, this controversy continues to generate questions and demands for transparency, adding to the broader debate about the use of Raac in public buildings.