he decision to spend £34 million to revamp the Department for Education’s headquarters had “nothing to do with me”, the Education Secretary has said.
Gillian Keegan distanced herself from any involvement in the decision-making process surrounding the refurbishment project, insisting the decision had been made prior to her appointment as a minister and was authorised by the commercial director within the department.
Her comments came during Labour’s opposition day debate in the Commons on the safety of school buildings and after Labour MP Sarah Owen raised concerns about the significant allocation of funds for the refurbishment of the department’s offices.
The MP for Luton South demanded that the Education Secretary clarify the reasoning behind the allocation, especially in light of ongoing challenges faced by schools affected by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).
She said Ms Keegan had to “get a grip and explain why her offices got a £34 million refurbishment when schools are crumbling under this Tory Government”.
Responding to the debate, Ms Keegan later said: “£34 million is a Government building for the Department for Education that was signed off by the commercial director for the Department for Education, nothing to do with me, based on a decision made in 2019 before I was a minister.”
Asked about the refurbishment earlier this week, the Education Secretary told Sky News: “I don’t know, actually. I didn’t. I haven’t done it. Which offices?”
When told it was at her offices, she added: “I know that when I was last in the department, I was on a different floor and I know they are refurbishing some of them. I wasn’t involved in that.”
Willmott Dixon Interiors is carrying out the work, which its website says is it is expected to be completed by autumn 2024.
According to the interior construction contractor, the project will create a “more modern, sustainable and streamlined office environment that reflects the department’s adoption of hybrid working practices”.
In his concluding remarks at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer also touched upon the issue, saying: “Doesn’t it tell you everything you need to know that he’s happy to spend millions of taxpayers’ money sprucing up Tory offices, billions to ensure there is not VAT on Tory school fees but he won’t lift a finger when it comes to protecting other people’s schools, other people’s safety, other people’s children?”
Tory MPs could be heard rejecting the suggestion taxpayers’ cash was spent on “Tory offices”.
Mr Sunak replied: “I know he comes here with his prepared scripts but he hasn’t listened to a single fact on six questions about the record amounts of funding going into schools, about the incredible reforms to education impacting the most disadvantaged children in our society, a record we’re rightly proud of.”