Mixed fortune for schools in business rates shake up

A bird's eye view of the planned theatre (left) and civic complex (right)

TONBRIDGE’S secondary schools look set to be the winners of the revaluation of business rates, although the picture is by no means consistent.

Controversy has surrounded upcoming changes to the tax, with businesses around Kent warning that a rapid rise in their rates risks closures up and down High Streets.

State-run schools also pay business rates, essentially reverting money away from schools, which are funded by Kent County Council, and back to central Government. Government then distributes a portion of that to Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.

Nationally, there have been concerns that the new rates would leave schools with up to a 40 per cent increase in their bill, after a study by consultancy Gerald Eve.

However, the majority of Tonbridge’s state secondaries are actually looking at a reduction in what they owe, according to government estimates.

Hugh Christie Technology College will receive an £85,000 cut in rateable value (16 per cent) which will mean the mixed comprehensive will save approximately £41,000 from their current £250,000 bill.

Weald of Kent Grammar School for Girls, Tonbridge Grammar School and The Judd School are also looking at a fall in what they owe.

Tonbridge School, a 464 year-old independent, receives 80 per cent relief on its business rates due to its charitable status. This means it will only pay an estimated £92,900 in rates.

However, Hayesbrook School faces a nine per cent increase, losing an estimated £14,400. The median salary for a teaching assistant is £12,023 a year.

They will now have to pay approximately £175,000 – an unwelcome announcement as schools’ budgets all over the country are facing the squeeze.

Hillview School for Girls actually faced the most significant increase in their rateable value, but its academy status should mean its finances are not impacted.

Academies have their costs, including rates, met fully, directly from Whitehall.

South East Secretary for the National Union of Teachers, ­Paddy Marshall said: “Any rise in business rates will exacerbate an extremely difficult situation.

“It is only going to add to what schools have to deal with,” he said citing an average eight per cent increase in costs for schools between 2015-2020.

Tonbridge School Headmaster, Tim Haynes said: “The Government’s proposed rise in business rates is understandably meeting strong opposition from many quarters.  It is likely to have a significant impact on smaller businesses in particular, as well as schools and other services.

“Many independent schools, including Tonbridge, are charities, and would therefore not be affected.

“We do however, take our charitable objectives very seriously and we believe we make a significant contribution to our local community in a wide range of ways, including partnerships with maintained schools, sharing facilities and ambitious outreach programmes.”

Andrew Altman, a specialist schools partner at Gerald Eve questioned why public sector properties were subjected to business rates at all.

“It’s circular. It’s all public money. It’s a very expensive tax to collect and appeal,” he said.

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