Private school tax hike ‘also harms state sector’

Independent schools claim that plans to reform business rates will make it harder to share staff and resources

Henry Hepburn

Private school tax hike ‘also harms state sector’

Scotland’s independent schools are warning that a proposed tax hike would damage not only them but also the state education sector.

The Scottish government has this week launched a consultation on proposals which would include the removal of charitable rate relief for independent schools.

Today, John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, told Tes Scotland: “At a time when sports, arts and music provision is being restricted and charged in all corners, it is a very curious decision indeed to go ahead with a rates raise that can only affect negatively schools’ ability to share staff and valuable resources and facilities locally and nationally.”

Mr Edward also said the move targeted a tiny percentage of Scotland’s charities and would “put some of Scotland’s most historic, attaining, diverse and internationally recognised education institutions at a competitive disadvantage”.

He added: “Scotland, and the government, will have to decide whether it wants to accept the contribution of the sector – as it does when it seeks Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) participation, or staff support for SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) exams – or treat the sector as no part of Scotland’s academic, sporting, artistic and community achievement. It can’t do both.”

Also this week, it emerged that two of Scotland’s independent schools – Beaconhurst School in Bridge of Allan and Morrison’s Academy in Crieff – are to merge.

'Competitive disadvantage'

Mr Edward said: “The schools themselves will have to answer for the direct effect of rates on their decision, but it cannot have helped their future planning – exactly as we warned last year.”

A Bill will be introduced to implement the recommendations from the 2017 Barclay Review of tax rates for non-domestic properties, with legislation due to be brought forward early in 2019.

Earlier this week, finance secretary Derek Mackay (pictured) said: “The launch of this consultation marks the next step in our reform of the business rates system following the Barclay review. It seeks the views of business and other stakeholders on the proposed legislative changes that we intend to bring forward to ensure we maintain a competitive advantage for Scottish ratepayers.”

He added: “The recommendations of Barclay, alongside others in the Budget, strike the right balance between offering a competitive and sustainable taxation environment while delivering sufficient resources to fund the public services which we all rely.”

Mr Mackay is “confident that these measures will not only attract new investment into Scotland, but also incentivise new developments and support employment”.

Concerns have previously been raised that independent schools which cater for students with severe special needs could be badly affected by the proposed changes.

And teaching unions called for state schools not to be charged business rates, after a Tes Scotland investigation into how much they paid collectively.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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