From John Arrowsmith.
I READ with sadness of the U-turn by the Council of Ministers who have accepted that ‘food’, however that may be defined, should be exempt from GST. I did have high hopes that ministerial government would allow unpopular, although necessary, measures to be introduced. It is unfortunate that they have been put under unacceptable pressure by C-list politicians desperate for re-election this autumn.
There have been many emotional, ill-informed and poorly researched statements on the subject from people who really should know better. The general theme seems to be based on the word ‘essential’. Well, in my case a regular supply of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is considered essential to my happiness, but I’m not asking for any special dispensation.
I wonder whether those who have proposed or supported this short-sighted measure have really thought through the implications. It has been suggested, for the sake of simplicity, that we merely copy the example of the UK. Senior UK VAT policy people with whom I used to have fairly regular contact in a former life were all adamant that their legislation, framed as it was for political purposes, was an absolute nightmare to administer, not only for government but for every involved business. I have read enough VAT Tribunal reports (yes, sad, isn’t it?) to realise that the UK definitions of what is non-taxable food, as apart from frivolous confectionery etc, constitute a catalogue of disasters. Be warned – the notorious Jaffa cakes case is only the tip of an enormous iceberg.
In addition, if we simply adopted the UK legislation we would be putting ourselves in the rather delicate situation of relying on UK case law for our domestic taxation policies. Is this wise in the larger context?
I suggest a compromise which may not only appease politicians seeking re-employment but would also have a beneficial effect on the health of Islanders. It is only to exempt from GST unprepared fresh or frozen meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. Even here, such a simple definition including the word ‘unprepared’ raises questions about pre-washed Jersey Royals, bags of already sliced runner beans or chopped lettuce, etc.
Grudgingly, I would probably add bread and milk to the above list. Even with such a simple brief I wish I were employed as a law draftsman, for the overtime opportunities in the coming months seem most rewarding.
If the proposed definitions in the revised legislation are not sufficiently rigorous and clear-cut, I look forward to attending the States debate on the subject as a source of rib-tickling mirth. We shall surely have proposals to exempt the ordinary man’s spider crab but charge the millionaire’s lobster, exempt the pensioner’s cabbage but charge the posh person’s asparagus, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.
On reflection, however, perhaps the emotion I shall experience while listening to the debate will not be mirth but despair.
La Pépinniéthe, Rue des Landes, St John.