The government has experienced a difficult week to say the least. Media sentiment towards governments is a bit like the weather and can certainly change as quickly. When it rains, it pours and nothing you do goes right.
In Cornwall, the row over VAT on pasties reflects a genuine problem. But it is not enough to just talk about problems, the most important thing is to try to come up with solutions. Once the initial storm dies down, politicians must roll up their sleeves and do the serious thinking required to identify a policy solution to this dilemma and that is why I have spent the last week meeting some of the pasty producers in Camborne and Redruth to try to identify a way forward.
The government was initially trying to close a loop hole being exploited by supermarkets to cook hot, spit roasted chickens but then claim these did not attract VAT. Some cafes and fish and chip outlets complained that if they did a takeaway chicken they would be charged VAT but supermarkets seemed to get away with it. Supermarkets were the intended target of the proposal.
However, the law of unintended consequences means that the Cornish pasty has ended up dragged into the argument and that was a mistake. There is also a difference between the Yorkshire pies and slices sold by companies like Greggs and the Cornish pasty. Greggs pies are sold so hot that they sometimes burn your mouth but Cornish pasties are at their best when they have been allowed to cool and are just gently warmed so that the full flavour comes through. That is how the best bakeries sell them and this needs to be recognised and understood in the VAT system in my view.
The current government proposals contain an exemption for bread. What if we were to simply extend that exemption to cover “bakery products”? That would deal with the supermarkets who have pushed their luck too far with spit roasted chickens but spare the pasty from VAT. We could also bring more clarity to what is meant by “ambient temperature” which is vague. A tweak in that area might allow warm pasties from Cornwall to continue to be sold without VAT.
This part of Cornwall is the home of the Cornish pasty. Its origins date back to the mining industry in the Redruth area and, even today, the best pasties are made here. I want to work with local pasty producers to try to identify a way forward and to develop the strongest possible submission to put to the Treasury during their consultation so that we can get this proposal changed.
George Eustice can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall, TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.