Private school tax grab will threaten teaching jobs, John Swinney warned

John Swinney has been sent a letter spelling out the impact of his  business rates increase. Picture: Michael Gillen
John Swinney has been sent a letter spelling out the impact of his business rates increase. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Education Secretary John Swinney has been warned the Scottish Government’s £5 million tax grab on private schools would “jeopardise” employment and investment at a “precarious” time for the economy.

The warning was contained in a letter obtained by the Scotsman under Freedom of Information legislation, which gives details of the financial impact of the government’s plan to increase the amount of business rates paid by private schools.

The letter, from a governor of the Kilgraston all-girls boarding school in Bridge of Earn, was sent to Mr Swinney in his role as a constituency MSP and Education Secretary. Written by Thomas Steuart Fothringham, the letter cites research by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) that suggests the rates rise on private schools will punish the state sector.

According to the letter, SCIS has calculated that fee increases caused by the rates rise will cost state schools £30m a year as pupils move from the private to state sector.

In Perth and Kinross, where there are several private schools, including Glenalmond and Strathallan, Mr Steuart Fothringham estimated it could cost the state sector £2m. He also cited research conducted on private schools in 2005. It found that independent schools accounted for 1.2 per cent of the area’s employees and almost one quarter of those in Bridge of Earn.

Private schools in the area paid £14.4m in salaries and had a turnover of £25m, leading to a further £13.5m in the Tayside economy.

In addition, £2.5m had been spent directly to local firms and contractors.

“Although it is now 2018, the basics of the 2005 report remain the same,” Mr Steuart Forthringham wrote. “Why is the government so ready to jeopardise local employment and inward investment, especially when our economy is so precarious?”

Mr Swinney responded by forwarding Mr Steuart Fothringham’s “self-explanatory” letter to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to ask him to consider the issues.

Mr Mackay wrote back to Mr Swinney suggesting private schools could get round business rates rises by applying to councils for rates relief.