Our cheerleading for the VAT campaign cannot be unconditional

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Vat club London Trafalgar square

Willock: "Our cheerleading for the VAT campaign cannot be unconditional"
Willock: "Our cheerleading for the VAT campaign cannot be unconditional"
Stop the ride, we want to get off. It is spinning out of control. Today, the Publican’s Morning Advertiser calls for the campaign being funded by our industry via the VAT Club — set up to secure a reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses — to address its profligacy or risk losing support.

According to confidential documents seen by the PMA, it is burning through money at a frightening rate. That it has been fined more than £9,000 for late payment of VAT is both ironic and unacceptable.

It wouldn’t be so bad if VAT Club members were getting value for their money, but — by the admission of campaign leader Jacques Borel — his time has been “improperly allocated”.

Some 80% of his effort to date has gone on fundraising, suggesting that 80p in every pound raised by the VAT Club so far has been spent on getting another pound.

If you had given to a famine charity and discovered that only 20% of your donation had been allocated to feeding people, you’d be rightly cross.

Undiminished

It’s too easy to spend other people’s money. Admittedly in Mr Borel’s case, much of the VAT Club’s money has come from his own pocket. But his appetite for expenses remains undiminished.

His latest suggestion — that the VAT Club should establish an office on Trafalgar Square with a deputy campaign leader and executive assistant — would consume a further £235,000 a year.

The question is surely not whether the VAT Club needs an expensive new office in central London, but whether it ever needed one in central Paris.

Besides, we have industry associations already headquartered in London that could easily provide a desk, a phone, a bulging contacts book and all the industry knowledge any campaigner could need.

You might argue that the size of the prize (a cut of 15 percentage points in VAT would be a huge boon for the trade) is such that scrimping on efforts to achieve it is a false economy. But largesse on this scale inevitably opens up the campaign to accusations (and I have heard some) that can only harm its prospects.

Disquiet

The PMA​ is deeply conscious that we have played a significant role in this saga. We introduced Mr Borel to the trade in 2009 and supported his efforts via our ‘Thrive on 5’ campaign. And we accepted paid-for advertising as recently as September promoting Tax Parity Day.

But while our commitment to the cause remains as strong as ever, our concerns about the campaign itself have grown to a level at which we think we have a duty to point out that the Emperor might actually be dishabille​.

In voicing our disquiet, we risk being accused of pusillanimity in the face of publicised government resistance to the campaign. Such criticism reminds me of the time when George W Bush said: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

But our cheerleading for the VAT campaign cannot be unconditional. It is entirely consistent for us to support the end but not the means, especially if the means are misjudged, or if we perceive madness in the method.

So, for the record, the PMA​ continues strongly to back the principle of VAT parity, but it cannot endorse the current campaign if it continues on a spendthrift but ineffectual path.

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