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Row over Labour’s plan to charge VAT on private school fees

LABOUR’S plan to charge VAT on private school fees shouldn’t automatically lead to higher costs for parents, a Gwent candidate has said. 

Catherine Fookes, who is standing for the party in Monmouthshire which is home to one of Wales’ best known independent schools, said the impact of raising VAT on fees charged to parents will be a matter for those schools. 

She was speaking after the Liberal Democrat candidate for Monmouthshire said he wanted to clarify the party is opposed to “taxing education”. 

Catherine Fookes is the Welsh Labour councillor the Monmouth Town ward on Monmouthshire County Council (Pic: Supplied)

William Powell, a qualified languages teacher who has taught in both the state and independent sector, said: “I oppose any attempt to undermine parental choice – especially when it could impact further on class sizes in state schools.” 

Mr Powell said he attended his local state school, near Brecon in Powys, as did his own children but said he also feared raising VAT on fees would mean private schools would do less in their local communities.

He said he’d been asked to clarify his party’s stance after attending hustings and a recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions political discussion show in Newport.

He said: “As we already see in Monmouthshire, independent schools often give back to our local community in accordance with their charitable status.  

“Liberal Democrats want to see this sort of best practice become the norm across the sector, with sharing sports facilities, theatre spaces or specialist teachers; mentoring schemes for teachers and pupils; higher education support;  debating clubs as well as bursaries and scholarships.

“Under Labour’s proposed regressive policy, all this great partnership work would inevitably be the first thing that private schools cut back on – and everyone would therefore be the loser.” 

William Powell is the Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate for Monmouthshire at the general election on July 4 (Pic: Supplied)

Labour’s candidate, who is also a county councillor representing Monmouth, said she has already met with the headteacher of the town’s Haberdashers independent school, and defended Labour’s policy. 

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Ms Fookes, who has also been a governor at Monmouth Comprehensive, said she recognised the independent schools in Monmouth as “part of our community” and added they “contribute to our local economy and are used by many families.” 

She said: “A UK Labour government will levy VAT on private schools, end their business rate exemptions and spend that money improving standards and opportunities for the over 93 per cent of children attending state schools. 

“I have already met with the headteacher of the Haberdashers school as I know that if I am elected, I would need to represent all the residents in the community, no matter where they go to school. No additional costs are required to be passed on to families by independent schools. That will be a decision for them to make.” 

Labour has said additional funds from VAT on fees would support recruitment of 6,500 new teachers in England, and new teachers in Wales though leader Kier Starmer acknowledged, when he visited Abergavenny, it would be a matter for the Welsh Government how it spends additional funding. 

Ms Fookes said she wants Labour to “drive high standards in all our state schools” and said: “Our Welsh Labour Government has been doing this with one hand tied behind its back.” 

Mr Powell said the Liberal Democrats want a “fairer funding formula for Wales” which he claimed would deliver more money than Labour’s planned VAT rise. He also said the current VAT exemption applies to all education provided by “an eligible body” including universities, music lessons and tutoring sessions. 

Figures from member association the Independent Schools Council show there are 7,304 pupils attending 19 independent schools in Wales in 2024, which is the lowest number of any part of the UK other than the north east of England. 

Full list of candidates standing in the Monmouthshire constituency: 

  • Ian Chandler, Green Party 
  • David TC Davies, Welsh Conservative 
  • June Davies, True & Fair Party 
  • Catherine Fookes, Welsh Labour 
  • Owen Lewis, Independent  
  • Emma Meredith, Heritage Party 
  • William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrats  
  • Max Windsor-Peplow Reform UK