Ian Murray says VAT on private schools will happen 'quickly' and urges SNP Government to boost state education

Scottish Secretary Ian Murray has said VAT on private school fees will be “pushed through quickly” to boost standards in state education.

The Labour Cabinet Minister urged voters to ensure the SNP Government spends the extra cash in classrooms and not to fill a “black hole” in their budget.

Introducing VAT is a Labour manifesto commitment and Holyrood is expected to receive around £150m from the policy.

But critics claim ending the tax exemption will lead to an exodus from private schools and put pressure on comprehensives.

In an interview with the Record, Murray said of the policy: “The Chancellor has made that commitment. It will be pushed through quickly, but it will have to go through a fiscal event.”

The Edinburgh South MP, who has been in Keir Starmer’s Cabinet for less than a week, hinted the measure would be included in the autumn budget.

He also rejected suggestions adding VAT to fees would harm state schools by forcing them to take thousands of private school pupils:

“The issue about pressure on the state sector is actually the discussion about why we are doing this in the first place, because we need to raise the resources to lift the state sector.

“Investment in the state sector is what this policy is all about, so it’s a slightly contradictory argument in that sense.”

He added: “I fully understand the concerns of parents who are right on the edge of that affordability, but this is a policy that’s coming in. It’s the right policy to have and if it’s invested in state education, which is what we want it to be, then it will improve our state education system.”

The cash will be used to help hire 6,500 teachers south of the border, but Murray said the UK Government can only “send a cheque” to Holyrood:

“What we are saying to the Scottish Government is you must spend that money in the education sector to resolve some of these issues and make the state sector as best as it can possibly be.

“We need to make the case, and the public needs to put the pressure on as well, that this money that comes through the Barnett Formula of that kind of spending has to be spent where it should be.

“It’s difficult to make the argument that you want to close the VAT exemption to raise money for education, and then for the Scottish Government to just put it into a black hole to fill a deficit that they may have somewhere else. It’s got to be spent on children’s education.”

John Swinney
John Swinney -Credit:Getty Images

First Minister John Swinney backed the VAT policy during the election campaign, but stopped short of saying the £150m would be spent on state schools.

Lorraine Davidson, CEO of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said:

“VAT on school fees will disrupt the education of children and place an added burden on the state sector which will have to cope with more pupils, many of whom have additional support needs.

"We are seeking early talks with Labour to minimise the impact on all children and to discuss how independent and state schools can build on their partnership work for the benefit of all children.

"We have written to the Scottish Government seeking urgent clarity on how they plan to exempt children with complex needs, whose places are funded by local councils, from having VAT added to their fees.

"There is a system for doing this in England but no direct equivalent in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister has made it clear that he supports efforts to remove the VAT exemption on independent schools.

“We hope that the UK Government will hold a budget as soon as is practicable to deliver clarity as to whether there will be any increase in Barnett consequentials from spending decisions in England, as none have yet been notified to the Scottish Government.

“If a net increase in consequentials from schools spending is forthcoming we would seek to make that available to improve education outcomes in Scotland.”

Pam Duncan-Glancy, Scottish Labour's Education Spokesperson, said: "The purpose of removing the VAT exemption has always been to invest in our state schools, and so we welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to spend the funds raised by Labour’s plans for schools on Scottish education.

"This Labour Government with Scottish MPs at the heart of it, has a clear mandate for change and wherever possible we will work constructively with the Scottish Government to deliver it."

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