The Liberal Democrats in Harrogate: Schools' charity status attacked

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Indy Politics
THE CHARITABLE status of independent schools should be abolished, English Liberal Democrats decided yesterday, to end what some party members saw as an unjustifiable tax break for the already privileged, writes Stephen Goodwin.

Ordinary taxpayers who could not afford private education should not have to subsidise those who could, Sara Tustin, chair of the Young Liberal Democrats, argued during a debate on education policy.

The decisive show-of-hands vote by the English party - whose business preceded the main federal conference - to end charitable status, restored a proposal which had disappeared from the policy document, Excellence For All, between the draft stage and the final stage.

Ms Tustin said she had been 'dismayed' at the change. 'I didn't join the Liberal Democrats to preserve tax breaks for the better off,' she said. She said the money released should be used to raise standards for all.

But Alison Willott, who contested Wimbledon at the general election and has four children in private education, said the party would lose many votes if it 'penalised' parents in areas like hers with further taxes.

'We must remember that a great many thousands of parents are sending their children to the independent sector because they don't feel they can sacrifice their children's education on a principle when the local state system has let them down. And they are paying through the nose for this,' she said.

Denys Robinson, chairman of the working group which drew up the policy document, warned that withdrawing charitable status would result in the closure of a great many independent schools, adding to the load on the state system.

'Moreover, it is almost certainly in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights,' Mr Robinson added.

The English conference also softened a policy proposal to 'abolish' local education authorities, referring instead to their 'transformation' into fully elected local education departments.

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