A TAUNTON councillor has been branded a “Marxist” over her plans to reduce business rate relief for independent schools in the district.

Councillor Libby Lisgo represents the Priorswood ward in Taunton, and is one of three Labour ward members on Somerset West and Taunton Council.

On Wednesday evening (February 26) she put forward a motion asking the district’s private schools to voluntarily give up some of their business rate relief, with the money going towards community projects in deprived areas.

But her motion was roundly defeated by the full council, with several Conservative figures accusing Ms Lisgo of attacking hard-working parents who chose to privately educate their children.

Independent or private schools which are registered as charities are entitled to 80 per cent business rate relief by law – which Ms Lisgo described as “quite proper”.

Under law, local authorities cannot force private or independent schools to give back any of their relief.

Instead, Ms Lisgo proposed that the council “invite” such schools within the district to donate ten per cent of their relief annually to the Somerset Community Foundation, which administers grants for community projects.

Under her proposals, the money would have been given to projects promoting health and well-being, with 50 per cent of the money “targeted at projects within the areas of greatest need” within the district.

Ms Lisgo brought a similar proposal before Taunton Deane Borough Council in 2017, which passed after being “amended almost to death”.

She said asking schools to provide this funding would have “a mutually beneficial outcome.”

She said: “We aim to find a new way to help fund more community-based initiatives – not by punitive measures, not fuelled by envy or greed, but fuelled by a desire to create greater equality across our area.

“Some of our communities with the greatest needs are close neighbours of these schools.”

Her proposals attracted strident criticism from Conservative councillors, who claimed her ideas would caused great damage to the schools in question.

Councillor Andy Milne – who was privately educated outside of the district – said: “I’m disappointed with the Labour Party and its Marxist-lite policies.

“This is not only an illegal use of charitable funds, but it penalises hard-working families who have worked hard to provide their children with a good education.

“These schools’ bursaries could be threatened if relief is reduced. Not only do Taunton public school parents contribute to this, but they allow their facilities to be used by the public – including the swimming pool and chapel.”

Councillor Anthony Trollope-Bellew (who was also privately educated) added: “Many, many parents are not that wealthy. They either make sacrifices, such as holidays or new cars, or they work extra jobs.

“Parents who choose to educate their children privately are paying for two educations, and do not need any further burdens placed upon them.”

Ms Lisgo found greater sympathy within the ruling Liberal Democrat group on the council – though most said her approach to the issue was not the right one.

Councillor Chris Booth said: “I am very sympathetic to this. Our education system certainly needs reform – across the country, the gap between rich and poor ever grows.”

Council leader Federica Smith-Roberts – who describes herself as a “centrist” – said: “We need to open dialogue – we should be speaking to the schools first, to understand where they are coming from and what they do for our communities.

“We can see what they do already and then tell them what we want to do as an organisation to help the community.

“I don’t think going out there and saying ‘Give us ten per cent of your money’ voluntarily is the best way to do that.”

Ms Lisgo responded to the Conservatives’ comments with good humour, stating: “I always love it when I’m called a Marxist – always by people who aren’t in the Labour Party.

“If I am a Marxist, it’s because I went to an independent school where I was taught in that way.”

The full council voted against the motion, with Ms Lisgo being one of only five councillors to vote in support of it.