Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill
Following the report of the Local Government and Communities Committee on the the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill, John Edward – Director of the support body for Scotland’s independent schools – has commented:
It will be a source of real concern that the views of hundreds of respondents - schools, parents, trustees, professional bodies - have carried no weight in the Committee's considerations.
It is more worrying still for schools that the constructive and honest responses about the impact of the Bill on school activities, given both in a schools visit and in oral evidence, have not been taken on board. Schools’ preparedness for an increase, in less than a year of five times the rates they pay has been ignored, and they have been provided no opportunity to revalue their current rating. The Finance Committee also heard that the Bill contained no information regarding any potential additional costs to local authorities.
Perhaps most troubling, the official Charity Regulator gave clear evidence on the divisive and retrograde potential of the proposals in Scotland's not-for-profit sector.
Independent schools operate at no cost to the taxpayer, attain at the highest level, have been undertaking a widening access programme - at Holyrood's behest - for 15 years, and contribute many times more in public benefit than any rates reduction. Yet the myth persists that this proposal will have minimal effect on schools, but assuming the fivefold increase comes from gross school income – rather than what little is left to pay exceptional teachers and support staff, to maintain buildings and facilities, means test bursaries, and support classroom and extra-curricular learning
Taking away from one side of that formula can only detract from the other - and the Government has heard ample evidence of the real costs the proposals may have for Scotland in the future. Those who have dismissed such warnings will have to accept that responsibility. Given what Kate Forbes has called the current “time of uncertainty”, it is not too late to consider some leeway for schools that the Minister only last month praised for their "important role" in Scotland.