Scottish ministers are considering delaying a multi-million-pound tax hike on private schools to help them cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.
With children being taught remotely at home, boarding houses are empty and many private schools have cut fees and been forced to furlough staff.
Independent school insiders fear that some independent institutions run on tighter margins may be forced to close as a result of the pandemic.
Before the crisis, headteachers had already been warning that Scottish Government changes to rates legislation would force some schools to the wall.
The Scottish Government’s Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Act was due to remove charitable rates relief from mainstream private schools in September.
When asked about the status of the tax hike in the light of the coronavirus, a Scottish Government statement said: “Recognising the impact of the COVID-19 disruption on independent schools, the Scottish Government is considering ways to further assist the sector, including delaying the removal of its eligibility for charitable rates relief.”
The schools are more than doing their bit to try and help everyone through this crisis in any way. For them, as with so many businesses, the challenge is potentially an existential one.”
John Edward of SCIS
The possibility of a delay was welcomed by private schools. John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), said: “We would unequivocally welcome that. The schools are more than doing their bit to try and help everyone through this crisis in any way. For them, as with so many businesses, the challenge is potentially an existential one.
“So for the sake of families, but also teachers and support staff employed by the schools and local supply chains, any relief would be welcome. It is in keeping with the assistance that’s being given to others.”
Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith added: “This would be a step in the right direction and I am hoping this is something the government will do. Independent schools are facing huge financial pressures. The coronavirus has added huge challenges for both independent and state schools.”
Schools that would be affected by the rise would include Robert Gordon’s College, Albyn School and St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen as well as Gordonstoun in Moray, where Prince Charles attended.
Around 300 jobs are understood to be supported by Gordonstoun. Previous studies have suggested hundreds of jobs depend on independent schools in Perth and Kinross like Glenalmond, Strathallan and Kilgraston.
Those who fought unsuccessfully against the rates rise argued that the hike would force some schools out of business. Those that remained would be forced to increase their fees. In turn that would result in parents taking their children out of the private sector, putting more pressure on state schools.
The Scottish Government added that private schools were also included in the £2.2 billon package to help businesses through the coronavirus outbreak.
The Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are going to great lengths to support businesses and are offering a package of support worth £2.2 billion for businesses. This includes a 1.6% non-domestic rates relief which will be applied automatically to all properties in 2020-21, including independent schools. This is on top of any charitable rates relief or other relief that may be in receipt of.”
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