Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he understood the anger over the Government’s planned pasty tax and promised to “listen very carefully” during a visit to the county yesterday.
His words in the Western Morning News this week chimed with renewed hope to campaigners who have been fighting plans to slap 20% VAT on hot food in a move which pasty-makers claim will destroy Westcountry jobs.
Mr Clegg said: “I know how strongly people feel about this in Cornwall, I totally understand that, but Liberal Democrat MPs in Cornwall have talked to me personally on this and we are listening very closely.”
The pasty industry estimates that adding VAT to the hot savoury would lead to 400 redundancies in Cornwall alone and a £100 million annual hit.
Mr Clegg added: “There are very odd inconsistencies in the way VAT is applied to some forms of hot food and not others – it’s applied to fish and chips but not to a hot chicken sold in the supermarket. Everyone accepts that there needs to be change. But the consultation was extended and we are listening.”
His comments echoed those made earlier in the week by the Chancellor’s right-hand man, Danny Alexander, who also said the Government was “listening”.
The words suggest a shift in attitude towards making hot pasties exempt from the tax rise, in the wake of a huge backlash in the Westcountry to the proposals.
Mr Clegg also spoke with Mark Muncey, chairman of the Cornish Pasty Association, in a meeting described as “positive”.
Mr Muncey said: “I think we’ve made headway and we are being listened to. Mr Clegg really seemed to understand our concerns about the impact on the people of Cornwall and, more importantly, he understood that there is a fair solution. It will be hard for them not to do something about this now.”
Campaigners are pushing for a VAT exemption for pasties that are not reheated or kept warm, meaning pasties that are sold cooling from the oven would not fall foul of the new rules.
Tens of millions of pasties are made in Devon and Cornwall each year and the take-away meal, which has its origins in the tin mines of Cornwall, provokes strong feelings across the Westcountry.
In the Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced he wanted to end the VAT exemptions for “hot” baked takeaway food in a move which was supposed to close a loophole allowing supermarkets to sell hot food over the counter.
North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson, said: “Nick knows this is an important issue in Cornwall.”
Mr Clegg was on a visit to Robartes Junior School in Bodmin to hear about the impact of the coalition’s pupil premium to help disadvantaged youngsters, before heading to Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow to learn about youth apprenticeships.
Later, he welcomed the arrival of the Olympic Torch.
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