Fire service warned of concrete collapse risk last year, emails show

The correspondence between the Scottish Government and local authority officials was revealed under freedom of information laws.

Craig Paton
Tuesday 05 September 2023 10:57 BST
Some 35 schools in Scotland have been identified to contain the concrete (David Jones/PA)
Some 35 schools in Scotland have been identified to contain the concrete (David Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

The Scottish Government was made aware of the risks of collapse-prone concrete last summer, a series of emails appear to show.

Correspondence between the Government and local authority officials from July of last year released under freedom of information legislation shows a document prepared by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service being shared in relation to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

In a briefing, the fire service warns of potential “structural collapse” of hospitals, the “prevalence of asbestos in buildings of this age” and the “unknown performance” of the material in a fire.

The UK Government moved to close buildings at 104 schools in England last week, while the Scottish Government has opted to keep schools open and carry out a “desk-based review” which is expected to take “some months” to complete.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, who has been warning of issues with the concrete in recent months, said the “head start” that could be gained in dealing with the issue had been “squandered”.

On July 8 of last year, an unnamed official within the Scottish Government sent an email to staff members at Falkirk Council and Fife Council, sharing the SFRS document.

“We are contacting you in your respective roles on the Shops (Scottish heads of property services) and Ades (Association of Directors of Education Scotland) resource networks,” they said.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has approached the SG in relation toreinforced autoclaved acerated concrete.

“We understand that the expectation is that the hazard identification will form part of the normal workplace risk assessment regime under health and safety legislation.

“Therefore, do you know if there has been any work done to identify schools with Raac in Scotland?”

The official from Fife responded that West Lothian Council had been dealing with issues relating to Raac, while the Falkirk-based member of staff said they hade never heard of the concrete.

Later in the chain, a briefing from West Lothian Council by the authority’s head of finance and property services, which was put before a meeting in June of 2021, was attached.

The briefing said nine buildings within the council area had been found to contain Raac concrete, including four primary schools, a secondary school and four community centres.

At the time of the meeting, remedial work was undertaken on six of the properties, while three others were receiving inspections every six months with consideration of works to be made.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “These documents suggest that Government officials were made aware of the risks posed by Raac more than a year ago.

“Both West Lothian council and Scottish Fire and Rescue were sounding the alarm but it seems like ministers didn’t listen.

“That’s a year’s head start that has been squandered rather than using it to make buildings safe and put in place a national fund to help remove this concrete from public spaces.

“We need a list of public buildings which contain this dangerous concrete and a ministerial statement explaining why the Government chose not to act despite the warnings.”

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