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Indeed. There needs to be more detail on many aspects of the bill. As far as independent schools go, this matter has been a cause for angst for some time, and it is important that independent schools are treated the same as other schools and are not allowed rates relief based on charitable status. While there are independent schools providing specialist musical tuition, there are the same types of schools in the public sector, such as
Scotland’s national centres of excellence. I should perhaps register an interest, as I am a former pupil of Plockton high school, which is now a centre of excellence in traditional music. It was not when I was there—and I cannot sing a note, so that is perhaps just as well. In any case, we will consider lodging amendments to strengthen that part of the bill.
Murdo Fraser spoke about further clarity being required on private nurseries, including those attached to independent schools. That is something that the Government needs to provide.
Alex Rowley talked about ALEOs and how they were used by councils that were often cash strapped in order to save money. We need to ensure that that does not backfire on councils at a time when their funding is reducing.
Many members spoke about revaluations and welcomed the change to the revaluation cycle from five years to three years, which will reduce the lag between the date at which the market value is calculated and real-time market conditions for business premises.
Alex Rowley spoke about simplicity in the system, which could lead to much fewer appeals if there were better explanations as to how revaluations were carried out. He also talked about recruitment and retention of assessors. If the cycle is to be reduced, we need to have adequate people in the system who will provide the valuations required. That means ensuring that people are trained, and that we treat those who carry out the work properly so that we can retain them. Many speakers welcomed the reforms to the appeals system.
As Sarah Boyack said, the bill could have engaged further with the current struggles on our high street. It is also a missed opportunity to examine ideas for local devolution, and the scope of rates relief to drive up things such as environmental standards—Sarah Boyack talked specifically about district heating systems—employment standards and the real living wage.