Nicola Sturgeon urged to end private school tax benefits

Graham Sutherland. Picture: contributed
Graham Sutherland. Picture: contributed
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NICOLA Sturgeon is under pressure to tackle the tax advantage enjoyed by Scotland’s private schools after the SNP conference called for the same charitable status to be given to state schools.

Edinburgh former teacher and former SNP candidate Graham Sutherland told delegates it was a “disgrace” the Scottish Government had rejected a previous bid to remove charitable status from private schools.

He said: “Effectively we have a situation just now where the state subsidises educational segregation and class privilege. The system as it stands also perpetuates educational inequality and that has a knock-on effect on child poverty.”

To qualify for charitable status, private schools have to show they provide a benefit to the public.

Mr Sutherland said Fettes College – where fees are around £24,000 a year – received an 80 per cent reduction in non-domestic rates while providing bursaries for two per cent of pupils.

That meant Fettes saw its rates bill cut from £209,000 to just £42,000 while Wester Hailes Education Centre had to pay £261,000.

He said: “The system at the moment means that elitist private schools which serve the rich, the privileged and those that are already advantaged in life’s race enjoy charitable status while state schools serving the wider population, which undoubtedly provide a public benefit, do not.

“It is time for state schools to be treated equally with private schools. It is time for our hard-pressed state schools to have this glaring anomaly removed, it’s time for a level playing field for Scotland’s children.”

During the debate several delegates called for the motion to be sent back and amended to remove the charitable status for private schools rather than extending it to cover state schools.

But Mr Sutherland revealed that his Newington/Southside branch had twice put forward a draft resolution calling for the removal of charitable status for private schools but it had not got through the SNP’s Standing Orders and Agenda Committee.

And he said a couple of years ago a young woman had sumbitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament to have charitable status removed from private schools.

“It was rejected because our Scottish Government said there was insufficient evidence for a review of the charitable legislation relating to private schools. I think that’s a disgrace.

“You have the opportunity here and now to tell our Scottish Government it’s time for action. This is not about semantics it’s about where we stand as a party. Are we for equality and social justice, are we for equality in education? This is a glaring anomaly, I plead with you to send a message out about where we stand.”

The resolution was passed by 464 to 455.