Monday, June 30, 2008

Have Your Teacake And Eat It: How The Price Of A Cake Takes The Biscuit...

It just goes to show how much the cost of simple Value Added Tax can be to the humble taxpayer. Today, the UK Treasury is having to cough up a massive £3.5m bill, because the wrong VAT was added to a supermarket teacake
The European Court of Justice has ordered the bill to be forwarded to the UK Treasury as the wrong VAT was added to a Marks and Spencer's teacake. The foul up has cost the Treasury the whopping sum of £3.5m meaning that somewhere down the chain, it will come out of public pockets, rather than the government.

In the UK, VAT is not imposed on to food - it is one of the very few categories which actually gets away with not being stamped, yet the mistake on the humble teacake has been going on for around twenty years at Marks and Spencer, so the cost has been going up and up without anyone noticing. At the present time, most traditional bakery consumer items such as bread, cakes, flapjacks and Jaffa Cakes are exempt from being given VAT on top of their regular price, however, according to UK tax laws, it is still payable on cereal bars, shortbread and partly-coated or wholly-coated biscuits. A fine line, now clearly visible.

Since the UK tax officials in 1994 had officially understood that the teacake had been wrongly titled as part of the biscuit family, the food and clothing chain had to fight a far way to get the VAT back which had been wrongly paid.

The problem has been whether to class the item as a biscuit or a cake - no one has actually never been really sure, yet the rather sickly item covered in chocolate, light marshmallow and biscuit underneath has always trodden that fine line between cake or dunking biscuit with the British cup of tea.

It has been an argument which has now come with a hefty bill (we think of very little else in the UK Treasury,) and customers have been wrongly paying the VAT for two decades, so surely, we should be compensated? How many teacakes have been noshed by the Great British public in that time is beyond comprehension. Come to think about it, there is a pretty gallon or two of tea which has washed this expensive item down also.

The retail chain Marks and Spenser have too been treading a tight rope over the last few years as they have become notoriously out of touch with fashion and growing trends, so this little announcement was hardly going to be pressed against their valued customers - losing anymore of the middle class clientele would be disastrous for the iconic chain.

So, coming to the rescue, the European Court of Justice has decided that to give the money to M&S would be only "unjustly enrich" them so it was decided that despite the fact that the VAT has to be repaid in full, the final say so has to come from the British Courts - hopefully the House of Lords will also tow the line in agreement over the final decision.

In the meantime the Lords and the boys at HM Revenue and Customs will decide what is to be down and who should actually pay, naturally the taxpayer will but through what channels is yet to be shown. SO far, the doors have been tightly closed over any negotiations.

In a statement from Revenue and Customers, it said,

"This is a very complex judgment on which it would be premature to make any comment until the House of Lords has handed down its judgment."

Probably quietly sweating somewhere, M&S will find out the outcome as soon as humanly possible. So far a spokeswoman for the chain told BBC News,

"We are pleased with the outcome which endorses our position. We're optimistic that the House of Lords will now find in our favour and hope that this will conclude the matter and draw a line under this protracted litigation."

Yet the situation is not as easy as it sounds and it were down to just a case of someone paying back a fee then it wouldn't be so bad, but there are complications. Companies, until three years ago in the UK, came under one of two categories - repayment or payment traders. Marks came under the payment heading whose sole responsibility was to pay VAT to the government every financial quarter, sounds simple enough? No.

M&S wanted to state in the courts that although they paid the VAT, other supermarkets who trade generally as food markets (as opposed to M&S who sell food on the side, if you like) these shops were treated "differently on the issue of chocolate teacakes." Sounds more like sour grapes rather than teacakes...

In other terms, M&S say that they were not handed back the VAT as other main supermarkets were. Perhaps it seems that this may be a short sharp nudge in the ribs for Marks and Spencer to decide whether they are a clothing chain or a food chain.

HM Customs officials had added a fly in the ointment for M&S saying that the chain would not have been that better off if they had received the VAT back, yet this surely isn't about money, it's the principle am I right? A chain as giant as M&S aren't going to quibble about money are they? (We'd be surprised!)

So, as a result, the trade tribunal's opinion, there is likely to a payment of no more than 10% (£350,000) - anything more than that would be, in their words, an "unjust enrichment of the company."

On the other hand, European Court of Justice say that a separation of each heading should be paramount - to differentiate between payment and repayment traders should be not so vague so to avoid such a fisticuffs in the future.

As usual, the House of Lords will have the last say.

After all, it is the House of Lords who run the country....

mduffy 2008

picture from

Friday, June 27, 2008

Confessions Of A Giant Panda Finally FIlmed

If there has ever been an animal on this Earth who has had to endure a very public sex life, it has to be the Giant Panda. Despite the fact that this animal seems to rarely "get it on," the reasons why have now been revealed.
Okay, so they have now made yet another documentary of what actually separates mankind from animal, or at least, in this case - what is actually incredibly similar. The BBC have come up with yet another painful programme which highlights the pros and cons of being a humble, common or garden, Giant Panda, and in this case - the chaps at the Beeb have literally left no stone unturned.

The whole thing has been filmed. In human terms it would be the equivalent of first meet to no phone call, to being seen drunk out with his mates, to first date six months later, to first snog, then a quick romp which involves pants around the ankles and upright in a parent's wardrobe, (or so I have been told) yet in Panda terms, it means a "no holes barred" sequence of whats has been described as a "boisterous beginning to a noisy ending," the sex life of the Giant Panda is not caught on camera and uncomfortable viewing, it can only be.

The the good old, Beeb, the Natural History team have created for BBC Two, the two part documentary called "Wild China" and have beautifully captured these "magic moments" somewhere which was previously rather secluded but now, laid bare in the bamboo forests of China's Qinling mountains. Like in human terms, a guy trying to get a date with a honey is not always easy and why should it be any different if you're a 25 stone Giant Panda? Even in the heart of the lush forests, the guy still has to fight off a couple of lads from the block to get his girl.

It has been regarded by the BBC team as being the type of behaviour you would not find in an ordinary zoo, and not surprising, this is normally the part when the pair of fruity Pandas retreat into their sudo-mock plastic/concrete honeymoon suite and then are dutifully hollered at by every other species in the zoo in the hope to put the male off - this, as we all know, usually works.

Yet we see a different side to the perils of the horny male Giant Panda - he even finds comfort from the other male hopefuls by hiding half way up a rather tall tree. He even tries to impress the female with certain tricks and talents he has considered may be well suited for the art of chatting up - we are told that the Giant Panda goes about making loud noises which sound uncannily like a Wookie from Star Wars. (You see girls, they will even try it in the animal world - how deluded the male race are!)

Told perfectly by Gavin Maxwell, the producer of the series, Wild China,

I liken it to Chewbaccas in a pub brawl. Most of the time, pandas live by themselves. It's only in the mating season that they come together; and that's when they start these extraordinary vocalisations. The sounds are so unlikely and just the last thing you would expect a panda to make. When you get two or three males together with a female there's an awful lot of barking and shouting going on.

Naturally the two-part film took months to record, including talking very sweetly to the Chinese authorities for actually letting the film crew get into certain areas of the mountainous range which has never been done before.

The range is a peculiar place and very much like nothing elsewhere on Earth. Sound travels incredibly quickly across the forest. Even bamboo grows so thick that it is hard to see daylight through it, let alone a frustrated Panda. The creatures may be enormous but they are likened to a rabbit caught in the headlights if you get too close. In fact, the BBC team came up with the idea of the animals being rather like mini quad bikes.

Mr Maxwell explains,

They're like mini-quad bikes and once they go, they're off and they're very hard to keep up with...

Of course, as we have said, it 's not the first time we have seen a couple of heavyweight Panda's getting it on in the middle of a forest. As Mr Maxwell went on,

"Occasionally, you will be sitting there quietly trying to keep in the background and the males will suddenly come charging out of the bamboo towards you. They're really fired up, they're breathing hard and panting, and you can see the steam coming out of their mouths. They seem like different creatures altogether."

If kind of makes you wonder if Darwin was right about the Apes bit at all....

First seen on Digital Journal.
m.duffy 2008