Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the decision to charge VAT on hot food served by shops and supermarkets and declared himself to be a keen pasty eater.
Mr Cameron said the move – which will add 20 per cent to the cost of hot pies and pasties sold by shops like Greggs – would defend takeaway restaurants against competition from major chains.
He was quick to reveal himself a fan of the Cornish pasty, telling reporters that on a recent visit to Yorkshire, he bought a large one from the West Cornwall Pasty Company’s outlet at Leeds station, adding: “And very good it was too.”
Shop workers, however, said they were unable to recall ever seeing Mr Cameron.
The station’s last pasty shop closed earlier this month and the Cornish Bakehouse concession now stands empty in the main concourse of the busy interchange. A branch of the West Cornwall Pasty Co. shut in 2007.
One woman who works in a station store said: “David Cameron? Buying a pasty on this station? I don’t remember that.”
Workers at another branch of the West Cornwall Pasty Co. – about 400 metres away in Leeds city centre – said they had not seen David Cameron either.
Staff at the branch of Greggs next door also said they had no recollection of ever seeing the Prime Minister in the store.
Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan said Ministers had “lost touch” and did not appreciate the impact the changes to VAT rules would have on ordinary people.
The high street chain saw millions wiped off its shares after the Budget closed a loophole that meant some hot takeaway foods, such as sausage rolls and pasties, escaped the duty.
The move sparked outrage, with critics pointing to the contrast of a cut in the 50p top tax rate.
Later Downing Street aides said the PM might have been mistaken about the location of his purchase but they said he regularly eats pasties when travelling.
Gavin Williams of the West Cornwall Pasty Company thanked the PM for his endorsement for the company’s products, but added: “What we really need from Mr Cameron right now is not advertising but clarity and leadership. We would have hoped that if he had been rubbing shoulders with our customers he’d better understand the impact that this move will have on them, and our sector and all the great suppliers within it.”
The firm, which has 80 branches in the UK, said it is estimated more than 13,000 jobs are sustained by the Cornish pasty industry.
On Tuesday, George Osborne was unable to recall when he last bought a pasty as he answered questions about the so-called “pie tax” in Parliament.
Speaking at a 10 Downing Street Press conference yesterday, Mr Cameron said Mr Osborne was trying to bring shops into line with the VAT charged for more than two decades on takeaway burger bars, fried chicken restaurants and fish and chip shops.
“What the Government has to try to do is make sure the VAT rules are fairly applied.
“I don’t think it is fair that the small businessman running a fried chicken takeaway is having to charge his customers VAT but the big supermarket isn’t having to pay VAT on fresh hot chicken.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband talked to the Press outside a Greggs outlet in Redditch, where he and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls made a brief stop to buy eight sausage rolls at a cost of £4.70.
He accused the Government of “hitting people’s living standards in every way they can. The Budget was hitting millions of people while cutting taxes for millionaires.