It’s not just restaurants that have been badly hit by the downturn. Even takeaways struggle to compete against supermarkets, with their subsidised booze and their heavily promoted ready meals.
So it’s been hard to find anyone to argue with Budget’s clampdown on takeaway options at the supermarkets themselves, as their hot food to go has developed, in recent years, from a nice little earner selling rotisserie chickens to full-scale VAT-free foodservice counters selling pizzas, hot curries, ribs, ham hocks, wedges, chicken wings, sausages, pies, pasties and sausage rolls.
In clamping down on this anomaly, the chancellor will unquestionably hit some retailers harder than others. Greggs is looking like the biggest casualty - its share price was down 5% in a day, and frankly that looks conservative as it prepares to swallow, or pass on, a 20% hike in the price of its savoury goods. It will also hit convenience stores selling bake-off products over and above the usual morning goods. Which means that Brian Stein, the outgoing CEO of Ginsters manufacturer Samworth Brothers, must have mixed feelings about his retirement.
But the synchronisation will also be a disappointment to takeaways themselves: what many were hoping for was a relaxation in the rules on VAT to put the UK in line with the rest of Europe instead George Osborne has simply brought certain exempt retailers into line.
As well as raising money, the aim of the chancellor is also to make the tax system simpler. But in looking to consult further with the industry on the numerous VAT rating anomalies within the food and drink sector - this week he clamped down on the exemption of sports and energy drinks - let’s hope he doesn’t simply raise the level of VAT to catch everything in his net.
In fact, if I wished for one thing to boost UK spending (on construction, not just food or retail), it would be an overall reduction in VAT. Reducing the nation’s debt is essential. But unless we spend more, the anomalies of economics dictate that the country’s debt will worsen.