Private schools hit back over business rates proposal
Barclay review reopens debate over charitable status of independent schools
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Private schools have hit back at proposals to remove their large discount on business rates.
Currently the sector benefits from the exemption because of their status as charities, while state schools are subject to the tax.
An overhaul of the system was recommended by the Barclay Report into non-domestic rates, including the removal of the exemption for some charities including private schools and some university buildings.
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“Ratepayers providing the same goods or services should not be treated any differently because of their location, or by virtue of them operating in the public or private sector," said chair of the review Ken Barclay.
The report was welcomed by the business community but John Edward, Director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said private schools worked hard for their charitable status, which included bursaries for pupils from poorer backgrounds and the sharing of facilities such as sports grounds.
“The findings of the Barclay Review run completely contrary to the charity test the Scottish Parliament required all schools to undertake," he said.
"[It] would put Scottish education at a competitive disadvantage in the UK and globally; would substantially impact the work schools can do on offering bursaries and other community provision; and would set independent schools aside from all other charities - for no sound legal, political, educational or economic reason.
"Most of all, for a rates review, they would most likely cost the Scottish taxpayer and Government more than they seek to raise.”
There have been calls from some Labour MSPs, the Scottish Greens and the unions to strip private schools of their charitable status.
But the sudden rise in costs would impact on the employment of teachers and support staff, Edward suggested.
"A review of business rates should not be used to single out 0.3 per cent of Scotland’s charities for differential treatment, when the exception to the rule is not the independent school sector – rather the council-run one.”
Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith said the schools would put fees up, making them unaffordable to more parents.
"In Scotland, it would mean a very large proportion of those who attend independent schools would have to move to the state sector at the taxpayers’ expense," she said.
"At a time when local authorities are screaming from the rooftops about not having the finances to look after their existing pupils, that would not be a popular move."
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has carried out a review of the status of each of Scotland’s schools within the last 10 years.
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