Letters: Labour’s plan to sting independent schools would prove counterproductive

Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions - UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA
Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions - UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

SIR – The Labour Party is threatening, if it wins power, to remove the charitable status of independent schools, forcing them to charge VAT on fees (Letters, December 2).

This is projected to drive at least 200 such schools to the wall. Labour has already taken a sledgehammer to Britain’s world-class educational standards by abolishing grammar schools in the name of “fairness”. Now it seeks to lower those standards even further by attacking a model that clearly works.

Labour chooses to ignore the fact that parents of private school pupils already pay twice for education, once for fees and once in taxes.

Tim Dimond-Brown
London SW13

SIR – I actually agree with Sir Keir Starmer. Independent schools are businesses, not charities, and should not have the VAT exemption.

A fairer approach would be to allow any British taxpayer to claim personal tax relief on school fees at their highest applicable marginal rate to compensate them for reducing the burden on the over-stretched state system. This would provide targeted help, while excluding those who are taxed outside the country or are non-doms.

Paul Archer

SIR – Michael Robinson (Letters, December 1) questions how much charitable work private schools actually undertake.

The answer is more than he realises. It isn’t just about opening up facilities to the community or giving out food parcels. These schools also do something even more valuable.

My old school, Oldham Hulme Grammar School, is one of the many independent schools in provincial towns that give bursaries to poorer pupils. Oldham is one of the most ethnically diverse towns in Britain. It has some of the worst deprivation in the country, as well as high levels of child poverty. A large proportion of entrants get bursaries so that the underprivileged get the opportunity to change their futures.

I can vouch for that because I’m one of the boys who had a bursary, and it changed my future for the better.

Andrew Holgate
Wilmslow, Cheshire

Thriving churches

SIR – As a lifelong Christian, I feel I must respond to the comments made regarding the demise of the faith in England and Wales (Letters, December 1). When attending churches around the country during my holidays, I have noticed that it tends to be the ones that have modernised that are thriving.

Organisations die if they do not accommodate the younger generations, and the Church is no different. The old village churches and old free church chapels suffer from many problems, such as the fact that they are small and, if the building is listed, are not allowed to build extensions, add a lavatory or remove pews to provide comfortable seats.

Young families usually want to be part of larger congregations where more is going on for children, with youth facilities, a worship band instead of an organ and discussion groups. In the days when transport was mostly on foot, people had to attend locally – but now, if the local church does not provide what they want, they get in their cars and drive to another one.

I am an organist and worship leader in a Methodist church, and now lead a band on the Methodist circuit, too. However, I have also been a member of a Pentecostal church and am happy to share the services of any true believers. I have my preferences for worship but do not rule out others.

There are thriving churches meeting in community halls and huge adapted warehouses, as well as small fellowships in homes. The ability to adapt is essential. This does not mean compromising faith – just modifying how it is expressed.

Rosemary J Wells
Weymouth, Dorset

SIR – Reports of the imminent death of Christianity in England and Wales have been greatly exaggerated.

It is of course true that the proportion of the population identifying as Christian has declined. However, our research conducted with YouGov indicates that this is likely to be the result of people no longer using a label that doesn’t fit them. This, in turn, is likely to be a consequence of greater religious sensitivity and a deeper awareness of what identifying with a religion actually means, and as such is more to be welcomed than deplored.

Our research also shows that, between 2018 and 2022, church attendance has remained stable, with around 10 per cent attending at least monthly and a decline in historic denominations offset by growth in newer expressions of faith.

We have also found a rise in the number of people saying they believe in God, and a fall in the number with “no religion” who say there is definitely or probably no God or higher power. A fall in the number identifying as “Christian” is not the same as a fall in the number of religiously active Christians, and neither does it imply a rise in the number of atheists.

Commentators who argue that Britain is no longer a religious nation are simply wrong. Only 37 per cent describe themselves as non-religious, and more than half of the population of England and Wales actively identify themselves as religious. Furthermore, while we take no position on constitutional issues, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was very thought-provoking in this respect. We found that 72 per cent of people believed it was appropriate that Christianity should feature in royal occasions, and only 15 per cent thought that a state royal event, such as a wedding or a funeral, should be wholly secular.

Dr Rhiannon McAleer
Head of Research, Bible Society
Swindon, Wiltshire

Royal racism spat

SIR – The decision by Lady Susan Hussey to resign as a Lady of the Household (“Palace race row”, Letters, December 2) was undoubtedly right. But was her behaviour racist?

It is apparent, even from the account given by Ngozi Fulani, that both parties could have stepped away from this spat. And while both parties have my sympathy, to draw conclusions about racism and take to Twitter, and for the BBC to give the story precedence on the news, is without justification.

Michael Sullivan
Southend-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – When I am asked the question, “Where are you from?”, I like it as it provides the basis for a good, healthy, interesting conversation. It can also help build bridges and start new relationships.

I was saddened to see the outcome from the conversation at the palace.

Ram Gidoomal
Cheam, Surrey

SIR – Given that Ms Ngozi Fulani appears to hold anti-royalist views, it is unclear to me why she accepted the invitation to a reception at Buckingham Palace.

Robert Patmore
Canterbury, Kent

Ulez and business

SIR – My family and I have run a four-star hotel on the edge of north London since 1945.

It sits about 50 yards inside Sadiq Khan’s proposed new ultra-low emissions zone (Letters, December 2). Guests travelling in from outside London in older cars will need to pay £12.50 to drive that distance before they check in for the night, and £12.50 after they have checked out the following morning. This will have a highly negative effect on business.

Moreover, around 20 of our staff have cars that are not Ulez-compliant, so they will need to pay to come to work each day. This scheme has been dreamt up in City Hall by a metropolitan elite with no concept of what life beyond the north or south circular is actually like.

Andrew Beale
Managing Director, West Lodge Park Hotel
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Violence at strikes

SIR – In your report, “Striking Royal Mail staff accused of violence and intimidation” (December 2), you say: “The business is now providing security at the worst affected locations following concerns about the safety of the 10,000 employees who chose to work over the last two days of walkouts.”

This is simply history repeating itself. Are Royal Mail staff and their managers too young to remember the miners’ strike?

Without true negotiation, movement and reconciliation on both sides, the company will die – and that means no jobs for staff of any rank whatsoever.

Heather Erridge
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

The lifelong generosity of Stanley Baldwin

R G Eves’s portrait of Baldwin in 1933, during the years of National Government - Alamy
R G Eves’s portrait of Baldwin in 1933, during the years of National Government - Alamy

SIR – I read Lord Lexden’s letter (December 1) about Stanley Baldwin’s generous gift to the nation after the First World War with great interest, having spent the first 25 years of my life living near Baldwin’s Foundry in Stourport-on-Severn, his steelworks in Wilden and his home at Astley Hall.

Many local people were employed by the Baldwins, and I never heard a bad word said about Stanley Baldwin or his family. I understand that, even when the family factories closed, he was concerned enough about the well-being of employees to continue paying them, depleting family funds.

He contributed to local society until his death and had a particular interest in Hartlebury Grammar School, which I attended and where I was fortunate enough to meet him. He was also a member of Stourport Workmen’s Club, where I gather his picture still hangs.

The extension of pension rights and women’s voting rights during his time in power also demonstrated his interest in and empathy for people, qualities not especially evident in parliamentarians today.

Alan Millington
Wallingford, Oxfordshire

Sherry sharpener

SIR – My dear 85-year-old grandmother enjoyed a daily glass of sherry at 11 am (Letters, December 2).

She gave this up for several days after reading an article saying that if you drank in the morning you were an alcoholic.

Luckily, the family were able to persuade her that one glass at her age was probably not much of a slippery slope.

Sara Ellis
Wimborne, Dorset

SIR – The ready availability of sweet sherry (Letters, December 2) on a side table at home was one of the joys of my teenage years.

I do not know how I would have coped with the summer holidays without the occasional glass of Harvey’s from the classic blue bottle.

Neil Sewell-Rutter

SIR – I recently went into a well-known supermarket and, after scouring the drinks shelves, asked a young man where to find Angostura Bitters. He led me straight to where the beers were.

Patricia Essex
Hedge End, Hampshire

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