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School buildings at risk of collapse must be urgently made safe to avoid disaster, say unions | UK News

The government must take urgent action to ensure deteriorating school buildings “at risk of collapse” are made safe, say unions.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, a coalition asked for a statement on what steps were being taken to keep pupils and staff safe.

Crumbling buildings could end up “costing lives” if they are not repaired, according to school leaders’ union NAHT.

The others that signed the open letter are the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT, Unison, Unite, GMB and Community.

They say it is “truly shocking” that a Department for Education (DfE) report conceded that some buildings were at risk of collapse.

Published in December, it warned: “There is a risk of collapse of one or more blocks in some schools which are at or approaching the end of their designed life-expectancy and structural integrity is impaired.

“The risk predominantly exists in those buildings built in the years 1945 to 1970 which used ‘system build’ light frame techniques.”

The DfE admitted the risk was “worsening” – something the unions say shows the situation has “reached absolute rock bottom”.

‘Disaster waiting to happen’

Kevin Courtney, NEU general secretary, said it was “disgraceful” that school buildings had been allowed to fall into a dangerous state, and worrying that the government “does not even know which buildings fall into this category”.

“In one of the most advanced economies in the world it is shocking that many children, young people and school staff work and learn in an environment that is dangerously unsafe,” he said.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, called it a “disaster waiting to happen, which in the worst-case scenario could end up costing lives”.

The unions want a full list of the buildings that could collapse and disclosure of when they will be made safe.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We take the safety of pupils and staff extremely seriously. The department works closely with schools and responsible bodies to ensure all schools buildings are well maintained and safe.

“If the department is made aware of a building that poses an imminent risk of collapsing, immediate action is taken to ensure safety and remediate the situation.

“At present, the department is not aware of any school building that remains open in this state and would expect responsible bodies to immediately approach us if this were the case.”

MPs and staff call for parliamentary authorities to urgently tackle abuse in Westminster | Politics News

​​​​​​​MPs and staff have called on parliamentary authorities to urgently tackle harassment and abuse in Westminster.

In the wake of a long-running Sky News investigation into bullying and sexual misconduct, pressure is mounting for an overhaul of employment practices.

Speaking in the third episode of The Open Secret Podcast, Jenny Symmons, who represents House of Commons staff for the GMB union and works for a Labour MP, said: “A solution to many of the problems that MP’s staff face in Parliament is to give us an independent overall employer and have our own independent HR service.”

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Calling on the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to make sweeping reforms that would modernise parliament’s workplace, she added: “I think it’s absolutely crucial for parliament’s reputation.

“I think that trust in politicians has really degraded for various reasons over the past 10 or 20 years.

“So we need to show that parliament is following best practice as a workplace. It needs to be the most positive example to other employers around the country of how a workplace should run.”

More on Westminster Harassment

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who has previously spoken to Sky News about her own experience of being subject to inappropriate behaviour, agreed that urgent change is needed.

She said: “I have a platform and a voice that I can use and I’m determined to use to give other people confidence to speak out.

“It takes a bit of bravery, but actually you know in your heart of hearts it’s the right thing to do to find that confidence, to call out things that you know shouldn’t be happening instead of shrugging it off or laughing it off.”

Commenting on the current systems that are in place to protect staff, she added: “It’s kind of a bygone era, isn’t it? And I think it would be much better if there was a far more transparent HR function.”

caroline nokes
Image:
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes

This comes following a Sky News investigation that found evidence of sexual abuse by senior political figures and widespread bullying of staff.

Speaking anonymously, one former Conservative staff member described being sexually assaulted by an established political figure in the party, whilst a former Labour employee recounted how she had been forced to “scrub stains from the carpet” by a female MP.

Many others described being exploited and said their mental health had suffered, with all suggesting that the systems in place to protect them could be improved.

A parliamentary spokesperson said: “Bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct have absolutely no place in the House of Commons and we acknowledge that there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

They added: “Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up to enable anybody in the parliamentary community to report bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct in confidence.”

Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom, who was the driving force behind setting up the ICGS when she was the leader of the Commons, urged anyone being subjected to exploitation at work to use the scheme, but she conceded that the process often takes too long.

She said: “It’s taking far, far too long for people to get justice. And that is justice delayed, is justice denied, particularly if you’ve been sexually assaulted or if someone’s been seriously bullying you and it’s really affected your mental health.”

Others who spoke to Sky News for the investigation suggested that poor leadership had been to blame in recent years for scandals concerning MPs’ behaviour.

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Alleged Westminster assault victim speaks out

Former Conservative MP Margot James, who had senior roles under David Cameron and Theresa May, said: “It definitely got worse under Boris Johnson, without doubt, because people take their cue from the leader.

“And Boris Johnson had a record of the way he treated, treated and dealt with women, which is in the public domain, you don’t need me to comment on it, but I think it spilled over into taking the matter less seriously.”

Ms James had the whip removed over her opposition to a no deal Brexit.

Asked about the scandal surrounding Tory MP Chris Pincher, which eventually ended Mr Johnson’s premiership, former chief whip Lord Young told Sky News, he should never have been promoted by the prime minister in the first place.

“If I was chief whip, he wouldn’t have had a job in government,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: “We have an established code of conduct and complaints procedure where people can report complaints in confidence. We take any complaint seriously.

“If an allegation of criminal wrongdoing is raised, we would always advise the individual to contact the police.”

Sky News asked Mr Johnson for comment but he did not respond.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We take accounts of bullying and harassment in the workplace like these very seriously and encourage anyone affected by such behaviour to report it.”