April 26 - Hundreds of British bakers took a petition with almost half a million signatures to the Prime Minister, opposing a plan to put 20% sales tax on hot takeaway food. Joanna Partridge reports.
The humble British pasty. The pastry parcel with a savoury filling is a popular snack. It's also at the centre of a row between bakers and the government. Hundreds of bakers protested in London against government plans to put 20% sales tax on hot takeaway food. The hike could put some smaller bakers out of business, says Ronnie Draper from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union. SOUNDBITE: Ronnie Draper, General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, saying (English): "Fresh pasties and pies that are sold in the shops entice massive queues in some places and that's going to diminish." The Prime Minister has expressed his fondness for pasties. But the government says consumers already pay sales tax on other types of hot food like fish and chips and fried chicken and it's just closing a loophole. Ken McMeikan is CEO of Greggs - Britain's leading bakery retailer - is backing the protest. SOUNDBITE: Ken McMeikan, CEO of Greggs, saying (English): "It's a fresh food item that we are actually making in our shops and then it's cooling down. If we kept it hot, then it would be subject to VAT, but we don't keep it hot and that is the difference between us and say the fish and chip shop, and that's why customers shouldn't be paying VAT on that." The row has caught the public's attention. McMeikan and the bakers took a petition opposing the so-called pasty tax, with almost half a million signatures, to 10 Downing Street. Stephen Gilbert is Minister of Parliament for mid-Cornwall, where the pasty originated. SOUNDBITE: Stephen Gilbert, mid-Cornwall MP, saying (English): "This is an ill thought-through change that will actually damage jobs in Cornwall, it will damage the local economy and it will mean that companies that want to expand both across the UK and further afield won't be able to. I'm asking the government to think again on this flaky idea." So would an increase in price put workers off their lunchtime pasty? SOUNDBITE: Geoff Snow, Bakery customer, saying (English): "It's a ridiculous tax, I mean how on earth can you pay by the temperature of a particular food item." SOUNDBITE: Ian Hammerton, Bakery customer, saying (English): "Now I'll have something hot virtually most lunchtimes, so I'd probably switch to something like a sandwich." The bakers say they'll have to pass the cost on to their customers, even though Britain is in recession once again. The tax is due to be introduced in October - and the row is likely to stay on the political menu until then. Joanna Partridge, Reuters