Leader comment: ‘Swim tax’ reversal is welcome relief

The Barclay Review proposals put in jeopardy sport and leisure facilities, such as community swimming pools, operated by arms-length charitable trusts.
The Barclay Review proposals put in jeopardy sport and leisure facilities, such as community swimming pools, operated by arms-length charitable trusts.
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Opposition to the Barclay Review’s so-called swim tax, which proposed the loss of business rates relief for charitable trusts running local authority sporting and cultural facilities, has been voiced in these columns since the moment the suggestion was made.

Against that background, it is of little wonder that we today welcome the decision of Scotland’s finance minister, Derek Mackay, to reject the plan.

Going ahead would have put at risk many community facilities which make no profit and struggle to exists under present circumstances. It was not alarmist to claim that swimming pools, libraries and museums would have to close down, because that is exactly what would have happened. And as well as representing a blow for communities, the withdrawal of leisure services in particular would have had consequences for health, both physical and mental, at a time when obesity levels cast a shadow over the well-being of the population. Without a local facility to attend, many people would have nowhere else to go.

It is also fitting that during Book Week Scotland, it has been recognised that this measure would have had a damaging effect on libraries, undermining the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting and facilitating reading for all.

The question here is how the proposal came so far, with the Scottish Government removing it from the table on the eve of a Holyrood debate on the matter, where the SNP faced defeat. It should not have made it past the drawing board.

Mr Mackay’s decision does not draw a line under this matter entirely, however. Another controversial strand of the Barclay Review is the proposal to go ahead with a similar recommendation for private schools. There are different arguments on hat front, but a lesson has to be learned from the fate of the sport and cultural facilities plan, to ensure that the position and consequences are properly understood before any decision is made. And the evidence of this process to date does not inspire confidence.