NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

If you really want to know about the “new” type of concrete that is giving so much grief to politicians – and worry to parents of pupils in schools and patients in hospitals – ask a brickie.

In the silent world where we spend so much public money on spin doctors to communicate important messages, especially at times when there is danger in the air,  that’s what I did.

While the council spin doctors put on the petted lip and poor mouth and stamped their feet over some minor discourtesy, which happened years ago, they and their councillor bosses in the Labour Party, which is supposed to be in control in Church Street , followed the SNP’s well-trodden line “whatever you say, say nothing”.

It was the usual Sturgeon Secret Scotland stuff. Nothing to see here, move on, move on.

I contacted not just an ordinary bricklayer but an expert brickie, a person who knows so much about construction that he has not only done the job himself for many years but educated people in the skilful (and safe) ways of doing it.

Unsurprisingly, this person doesn’t  want his identity to be disclosed.

He is long enough in the tooth to know how curmudgeonly councillors and  officials can be when they are made to look stupid, which in West Dunbartonshire  is far too often. They are quite nasty and vindictive for the most part too.

The suits and skirts had no procurement rules in place for four years; they sat on their hands when it was suggested the police should be brought in to investigate why officials were wining and dining with contractors in five-star hotels and restaurants; they sacked a doctor they shouldn’t have done, and they bullied a disabled person whom they wrongly fired from his job into the bargain.

And they have been caught out so often that they are now hiding from the press. At least they are hiding from me and that’s because they are so confident that they will have an organisation on their payroll to make us apologise if we defame them, which we have never done.

They are snowflakes who would rather not hear from journalists who are prepared to hold them to account for the way they make foolish “climate change” rules (grass cutting’s just one?) which are more harmful to the environment than helpful and who paid out £thousands to senior staff to let them know when it’s snowing. More ice for the white wine then?

Then there was the one-way system they were never really able to plan and introduce in Dumbarton High Street (we’ll leave the dystopian disaster that is Alexandria out of it for the moment) and the school they foolishly built far from the West End homes of deprived pupils and teachers.

That was when the depute Labour leader, Cllr Michelle McGinty,  was in charge of education and she and the then education director Terry Lanagan defied the public’s wishes and had Our Lady and St Patrick’s built in Bellsmyre.

Now we have the scandal of the cheap and nasty concrete that’s been used in our schools, hospitals and other public buildings such as Helensburgh Fire Station and the John Logie Baird Primary School, where the ceiling is being held up by poles.

So, back to my construction contact. He told me: “The use of this stuff was widespread across not just West Dunbartonshire, but the whole of Scotland.

“Any public sector buildings, including schools and hospitals, will have had this material used in its construction.

“Because of the bubbles in it we named it after Aero chocolate bars. The men on the job were delighted to have it because the “funny stuff” lessened the weight of their work..

“Before it was introduced at the end of the Fifties and went on until the Nineties  the concrete we used was the real stuff. It was very heavy. It sometimes took four of us to lift a lintel which is piece of concrete which goes over a door or a window. It was really heavy. Suddenly one man could lift one of these on his own.

“But the water just ran straight through the beams on to the steel work that was used to keep the concrete in place and that steel rotted and rusted and became unsafe and prone to collapse.

“This is the disastrous consequence of government, health board and council cuts. It’s a disaster waiting to happen and the contractors and councillors and all those involved in the planning and preparation of these defective buildings have a sin to answer for.”

Anyway, the Council leader, Martin  Rooney, pictured right, and his spin doctors who are so petty that they refused to correct the spelling of the Pavilion at Levengrove when we told them it was wrong, were silent as usual.

Speaking in yesterday afternoon’s Scottish Parliament statement on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:  “If ministers were really across this problem, don’t you think Parliament and the public would have been told sooner that at least 40 schools and an untold number of hospitals contain this potentially lethal concrete.

“Ministers were nowhere near even understanding this. No money was put aside.

“Instead, Liberal Democrats, not the government, were the first to lay bare the scale of the problem.

“Indeed, the trigger for schools closing in England was a concrete beam failing at a school in Dunblane. A beam that was rated as safe, but it failed. The Scottish Education Secretary [Jenny Gilruth] said on Channel 4 News last night that “was an isolated incident”.

“Does the minister agree with her Cabinet colleague? How does she know this won’t happen again, especially as we don’t know where this concrete is and how it has been used?”

Labour’s message, was spoken in the Commons by Bridget Phillipson, pictured left, who savaged the  government over school concrete crisis.

“The public realm is literally falling around the necks of the next generation,” she said in a scathing House of Commons speech.

The shadow education secretary was responding to a statement given by Gillian Keegan to MPs on new guidance for reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in education settings.

Pressure is mounting on Gillian Keegan over the crumbling school scandal after it was revealed that potentially thousands more schools and colleges could be impacted by the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

Keegan was forced to apologise after claiming others had failed to tackle the crisis in an expletive-laden outburst captured after an interview on ITV News.

It follows claims by a former senior civil servant that Rishi Sunak had slashed the government budget for school repairs by half in 2021, meaning only 50 rather than 100 schools could be refurbished every year.

She said: “I want to reassure parents and children that we are taking a deliberately cautious approach to prioritising children’s safety.

“Because of our proactive questionnaire and surveying programme, we have a better understanding of where RAAC is on the school estate than in other countries.”

But Phillipson decried the response of the Department for Education, describing the scandal as “an utter shambles” before taking aim at the Tories’ record on public infrastructure.

She said: “The defining image of 13 years of Conservative government: children cowering under steel props to stop the ceiling falling in on they heads. 13 years into a Conservative government and the public realm is literally crumbling around the next generation.

“The education secretary said this morning that in her view it is not the job of her department to ensure the safety of our children’s schools, that she was doing a good job.

She added: “Schools are literally at risk of collapse, she is the education secretary, whose responsibility does she think it is then?

“This is the tragic endgame of the sticking plaster politics of the last 13 years, and children have been failed by this Conservative government.”

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One comment

  1. Detail correction if I may.

    Steel reinforcement is not to hold the concrete in place. Rather it is to reinforce the concrete.

    All concretes in general terms are strong in compression and week in tension. That iin simple terms is why a concrete lintel has reinforcement on the bottom below the neutral axis.

    But RAAC is not the only deteriorated concrete in our build environment. Anyone looked at the M8 Woodside viaduct just beside the old Stow College.

    The concrete on that structure is very deteriorated to the extent that engineers are going to have to, amongst other thing hydrodemolition off the cantilevered bridge deck edges to recast new.

    There is comment that the repairs running into over £100m has been left too long unrepaired. But that sadly is our legacy in modern Scotland.

    Look at so many of our road surfaces as another example of how so much of our built environment is slipping into dilapidation.

    Putting the Great not, back into Britain.

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