British bakers turn up heat on government over tax

Thu Apr 26, 2012 11:31am EDT
 
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of British bakers wearing chefs hats and carrying placards converged on Prime Minister David Cameron's official residence on Thursday to say his plan for higher sales tax on their products was half baked.

Waving placards emblazoned with "Save our savories. Say no to VAT", the bakers stepped up the battle against a proposed "pasty tax" by bringing with them petitions signed by nearly half a million Britons demanding the government scrap plans to slap a 20 percent sales tax on fresh-baked foods that are sold warm, and are popular everyday quick meals for workers.

The proposed tax has been derided publicly and by the media as showing how out of touch Cameron's Conservative-led government is, especially after an attempt by Cameron to portray himself as a pasty-eating man of the people backfired last month.

The tax, proposed in finance minister George Osborne's Budget speech last month, would be levied from October 1 on products currently zero-rated, such as sausage rolls, pies and pasties - pastry pockets with a savory filling - that are sold at "above ambient air temperature".

"If the government think that this is a sensible thing to do they are completely out of touch," Ken McMeikan, chief executive of Greggs, Britain's largest food-on-the-go retailer with 1,550 stores, told Reuters.

"I cannot think of a worse time for the government to consider forcing ordinary, hard-working people to pay 20 percent more for popular, everyday food, especially with the news yesterday that the country is now officially in a double dip recession," he said.

"We are fighting and we will go down to the bitter end on this," added McMeikan, a former Tesco and Sainsbury's executive and Royal Navy veteran of the Falklands War.

The National Association of Master Bakers fears the proposed levy will cause job losses, particularly in Cornwall, southwest England, where the "Cornish pasty" industry is worth more than 150 million pounds ($242 million) a year.   Continued...

 
Bakers and their supporters hold a giant sausage roll as they protest opposite Downing Street in central London April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor