Labour’s VAT raid is an attack on bursaries

Alton School
Closing schools: "Adverse political and economic factors" have made once flourishing Alton School "unviable"

Independent schools are already being forced out of business by Labour’s proposed tax raid. Alton School in Hampshire has seen parents withdrawing their children in anticipation of the 20 per cent VAT imposition should Sir Keir Starmer’s party win office on July 4.

The school said that “adverse political and economic factors” had drained pupil numbers, leaving it “unviable”. The £18,000-a-year Roman Catholic school, which caters for 370 pupils, will close at the end of this term.

Alton had suffered from dwindling pupil numbers in recent years but the prospect of a Labour government was said by some parents to represent the “final nail in the coffin”.

Labour is pursuing a reckless policy which will damage the education of our children but seems to thinks class envy trumps all other considerations. The leadership has been busily abandoning policies deemed too problematic for the voters but continue with this wrecking ball approach to schools.

Sir Keir knows that in order to placate Left-wing critics angry that he has junked past socialist promises he needs to retain a few “red meat” schemes. Far from retreating he has said the VAT rise will be a priority for an incoming Labour government.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’ only practical suggestion to independent schools is that they should cut costs – but past government policy, such as significantly increasing the cost of teacher pensions to private schools, has made costs, and thus fees, soar. Labour promises to make matters worse by removing mandatory business rate relief from schools with charitable status.

Average annual fees for a UK day school of £16,656 per year would rise to nearly £20,000 if VAT was added in full. This will force many out of the market.

A poll for this newspaper of 350 independent school leaders earlier in the year found that almost three quarters fear they would be forced to close in the next five years. Faith schools, family-run schools and special schools around the country would find it hardest to keep going.

The impact will be felt not just by better-off parents. Some schools will try to absorb the extra cost by scaling back their means-tested bursary programmes. Who benefits from that?

Moreover, thousands of pupils will have to be absorbed back in the state sector at a cost to the taxpayer. There are no savings from this policy, just costs.

If the first act of a Labour government is to tax education, shut down good schools and increase the burden on the state it bodes ill for what else it has in store for the nation.