Hugh Reilly: Sweetener charity leaves a sour taste
WHEN strolling through Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, the only part of the city’s “style mile” not home to a Cash Converters store, it’s hard to believe the country is experiencing a double-dip recession.
In this opulent pedestrian precinct, predatory middle-aged men with flashy Rolex watches wear their wealth in the hope of catching the attention of narcissistic tanned bimbos who, for once, are not stealing glimpses of themselves in shop windows.
The successful rebranding of the No Mean City into the Friendly City is a marketing textbook example of image over substance because, trust me, danger lurks round every corner. In the city centre, the casual walker may encounter trip hazards such as kneeling Eastern European women with polystyrene cups held forth. Avoiding eye-contact is usually sufficient to overcome this hurdle but there is little one can do when confronted by bulging-eyed strangers suddenly appearing from nowhere and demanding 50p (or any multiple thereof). In the case of ubiquitous Big Issue sellers, most seem blissfully unaware that their attack on the olfactory senses of passers-by hinders sales; only the vendor vigorously defending his pitch outside the Lush shop shows any insight.
The antics of these street beggars is sooo in-your-face. To my mind, charity is something that should be done well away from the public’s gaze. You don’t see private school bursars on the street with snazzy charity tabards on, scrapping with other so-called “chuggers” (charity muggers) for any loose change. No, schools such as George Watson’s College go about their begging business in a commendably more dignified manner. While bog standard comprehensives and primaries pay full non-domestic rates (NDR), independent schools receive an 80 per cent discount by dint of their charitable status. Perhaps, in light of their support from the public purse, they should be reclassified as independent-lite schools.
Fettes College, whose alumni include virtuous individuals such as Tony Blair, saw £170,000 wiped off its NDR bill. Anyone who unhelpfully points out that Wester Hailes Education Centre, where over 40 per cent of kids are entitled to school meals, paid six times as much NDR as Fettes is unashamedly promoting the politics of envy.
It would be a sin of omission not to mention that the subsidy-junkies of education do good works in their local communities. For instance, they take in some children from the deserving poor. This altruistic policy is the word made flesh of a slightly paraphrased version of The New Colossus, a sonnet on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, and while I will reject most of them, for a lucky few I will lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Lest any cynic claim these establishments are creating an illusion of inclusivity, it is a fact that 2.2 per cent of children at Hutchesons’ Grammar pay no fees whatsoever – eat your heart out, Mother Teresa.
History shows that when buckshee cash is on offer, private schools are not backward at coming forward. In the Nineties, when the National Lottery launched its sports-funding projects, the big winners were the mock independent schools. As a teacher, I shook my head in disbelief as I daily drove past the Lotto-funded sports facilities of a private school on my way to Europe’s largest single campus secondary school, Holyrood, which boasted two blaes football pitches and a long jump pit that spookily resembled a small landfill site. The reason proffered for this outrageous state of affairs was that the boards of private schools were more adept at filling in application forms. I find it depressing that allegedly charitable organisations, plainly aware of the wretched sports facilities endured by deprived state school children, thought it fair to elbow their way to the front for a hand-out to help privileged kids.
Ridding private sector schools of their charitable status would cause much grief for those fee-paying parents already reeling from the government’s crackdown on tax evasion schemes. It would mean a return to the dark days when 100 per cent of private school pupils came from upper and middle-class homes. No longer would we be able to sob over plucky stories of wretchedly poor children making good, all thanks to the benevolence of a smiling paternalistic elite.
Stripping private schools of charitable status will end the dependency culture that has insidiously developed over the years. Forcing private schools to swap the begging bowl for true financial independence should be a big issue for our political leaders.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West