Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s controversial suggestion that local authorities could give rates relief to private schools risks harming the state education sector, it was claimed on Saturday.
The warning was issued by Murray Lyle, leader of Tory-run Perth and Kinross Council, which has a large number of private schools including Kilgraston, Glenalmond, Strathallan and Craigclowan in its area.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Lyle argued that financing rates relief for private schools would put a squeeze on other budgets including those for comprehensive schools in his local authority area.
Lyle made his comments as Scottish Labour warned that Mackay and Education Secretary John Swinney would face questions over the controversy when the Scottish Parliament returns next month.
The row erupted last week when it emerged Swinney had written to Mackay on behalf of a constituent who is a governor of Kilgraston, the £10,000-per-term girls’ boarding school in Bridge of Earn.
Private schools are deeply concerned by plans to end Scottish Government financed charity business rates relief in the independent education sector, arguing that it will put up fees, forcing children to leave.
Mackay replied to Swinney’s letter suggesting that private schools can apply to local authorities for rates relief under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.
Mackay has been accused of “passing the buck” to hard-pressed councils, while Swinney has been accused of making a “serious error of judgment” for making representations on behalf of Kilgraston.
Lyle said Perth and Kinross’s £400 million budget had been squeezed over the last few years and there had been a 10 per cent reduction in the local authority’s workforce.
He said: “Our budget is extremely tight. We have ongoing projects that we have already budgeted for in our revenue budgets because of the constraints put on us by the outcome agreements of the Scottish Government already. We would need to quantify this and see what the implications are of it, because if it means a reduction in other potential services or it means a reduction in our education provision, it seems bizarre.”
When asked if cutting council education would have to be examined, Lyle answered: “It is certainly a possibility.”
Yesterday Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said Mackay and Swinney would be questioned at Holyrood on the matter. Leonard said: “We see a massive reduction in spending on state schools and at the same time the Finance Secretary is talking about private schools can exempt themselves from paying tax. I think that’s wrong.
“They say one thing in public and do something very different in private. There will be questions asked when the Scottish Parliament returns in September.”
A Scottish Government spokesman accused Labour of hypocrisy, saying it had failed to raise tax on private schools. He added it was up to councils to use rate relief provisions.