Private Schools

Press reports about Labour policy towards private education seem to be a bit confused.

According to the BBC, which I hope is being objective, there is a motion that calls for funds and properties held by private schools to be “redistributed democratically and fairly” to other schools. They go on to report “the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said “tax loopholes” that benefit private schools would be scrapped by a Labour government in its first budget.”

There is quite a big leap between the two. Closure and redistribution of assets is a bit like dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century. Undoubtedly in the 21st Century it would be illegal to appropriate privately owned property and redistribute it. It is a vote-losing nonsense that Labour opponents would have a field day with. What next? Private hospitals? It opens up nationalisation without compensation to every conceivable private activity. If people want to send their kids to private schools then so what? And frankly they still will, only those schools will be in Northern France, Belgium, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Ireland. It may well be the same schools, stripped of assets and moved offshore. It is a very silly motion almost impossible to implement, appealing to a very narrow extreme left-wing audience.

But what of the tax loopholes? Actually, we all know that public (private) schools are not really charities these days, regardless of their origins. They are fee-generating businesses catering mostly for the wealthy with the odd bone thrown towards their founding principles. They should no longer be afforded charitable status, their fees should be subject to VAT regardless of the views of Tory MPs, their income should be taxed as any business would be, and their premises should be subject to full business rates. I see no credible opposition to such measures other than the views of the wealthy vested interests. I suspect the move would be a popular one. Even Gove and Hammond have questioned the continued charitable treatment. The vast bulk of the population should not effectively be subsidising private education by affording it preferential tax treatment.

Genuine charitable schools should be given an option to convert to Free School status. You would also need to deal with the need for some boarding places to cater for children from remote island communities or where their parents are working overseas on official business. But these exceptions are minor compared to the main principle.

In my view the Lib Dems should be adopting the tax loophole closure proposals into official party policy whilst pointing out the futile and impractical, probably illegal, nature of the asset appropriation motion.