Founded under James I, Monmouth School for Boys has been serving the town since 1614. With the addition of the girls’ school in 1892, the Haberdashers’ family has a proud history. Today, the schools support 580 jobs locally and generate £17m to the economy. Many people would hope they can continue for another 400 years. But there are plans afoot if Labour win the next general election to charge parents 20 per cent VAT on school fees and remove the charitable benefits independent schools receive. This would have a significant impact on the whole community – pupils and parents, colleagues in the state sector and the wider economy. I visited Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools on Friday and met with both heads (Mr Simon Dorman and Mrs Rachel Rees) to learn more about the substantial risks posed by these tax changes. I was concerned to hear how VAT would inevitably threaten the future of independent schools like Haberdashers’ and place an unfair burden on local education authorities if hundreds of pupils suddenly require state school places. Indeed, analysis by the Welsh Independent Schools Council has warned that up to 19 independent schools could close in Wales and 6,500 pupils would have to move in the worst-case scenario – leaving the Welsh Government with an £80m funding gap. I have written to the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Shadow Secretary of State for Education to ask if VAT on fees is a cast-iron policy should Labour form the next UK Government, or if these proposals are up for consideration given the detrimental impact local authorities such as Monmouthshire would face.
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS this week, I was disappointed to see the Welsh Labour Government’s legislative agenda for the next 12 months failed to mention excessive waiting lists here in Wales or poor ambulance response times. I was rather hoping Health Minister Eluned Morgan would be taking action to improve the emergency department at The Grange University Hospital in Llanfrechfa, as well as sorting out Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board after independent board members were forced to resign following damning spending irregularities. What we have instead are legislative “priorities” to send 36 more politicians to Cardiff Bay, costing the taxpayer £100m, and ill-thought-out council tax reforms that will push hard-pressed families into much higher council tax bands. The policy agenda of Welsh Labour is totally out of kilter and has got worse. Perhaps they don’t feel the pressure to listen to what people are saying after 25 years in power.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 05 July 2023 and Abergavenny Chronicle on 07 July 2023*