Monday, 4 April 2016


By Amanda Vigar, Managing Partner, V&A Bell Brown LLP

Despite my curvy shape, you won’t see much sugary stuff in BattleAxe Towers – it would only blunt the effect of my acid tongue!

The Budget saw both the introduction of the Sugar Tax on soft drinks and my heart sinking.  I foresee long, complex tax cases on whether a particular drink is in or out – just as we saw the great VAT fight over whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit (it’s a cake and so VAT free in case you’re interested).

Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the obesity challenge in this country – one look round at my Battle-Boxing class is enough to re-enforce that message.  But why have milk based drinks and highly processed fruit juices been exempted? Also, what about sweets (good 18th century precedent for taxing that one), beer, cider and spirits (he didn’t put duty up here either) and hidden sugar in processed foods, especially things claiming to be low fat?

The Sugar Tax won’t stop people switching from a can of pop to having a hot chocolate drink and then loading in three heaped spoonfuls of sugar or consuming a breakfast bar which claims to be “100% natural” and therefore “healthy” but is laden with sugar.  Either refined sugar is bad for us or it’s not!  And by the way, the “natural” tag often baffles me – belladonna and even rhubarb leaves are eminently natural yet both are poisonous!

This all feels like pandering to a certain very noisy chef, some PR savvy doctors and assorted other campaigners who appear to regard soft drinks as the sole cause of the nation’s obesity problem – it’s nothing to do with educating the nation into eating and exercising sensibly, of course. 

And don’t forget, there is somewhat of a history of the Treasury raising money from things people “enjoy” while failing to achieve the equivalent saving elsewhere.  The original Sugar Tax in the 18th century raised vast amounts (£3M in 1815 alone) and was still doing so in 1874 when it was abolished.  It is estimated that the new Sugar Tax will raise more than £900M a year extra in tax if the public’s behaviour doesn’t change – somehow I doubt it will save that much for the NHS in reduced costs.

Let us also remember that, in an emergency, some diabetics (including Type 1, who are actually born with the condition) use sugary drinks to deliver, very effectively, the life-saving hit of sugar they need.  Are they going to have to keep their drinks receipts and claim the tax back from the NHS? 

I for one would much rather see social engineering done by encouraging good behaviour – like eating vegetables; encouraging and supporting exercise for all ages; and explaining proper nutrition to our children in schools.  It amazes me that kids are still being taught how to bake cakes and biscuits rather than how to budget for, cook and serve up a range of balanced and tasty meals. 

Whilst we are at it, why not make sure that British farmers get a fair deal from the big supermarkets, instead of relying on ill directed subsidies, so that their truly healthy produce can be sold at a sensible price?

So, while we wait for the devils to appear from the detail of the rest of the Budget (the lack of headline grabbing items always makes my Research Elves suspect the worst bits just didn’t get a mention while the Chancellor was on his feet), I’m off for a Rolling Pin Workout (think Indian Clubs but with more flour…) – which I’m sure must burn off a whole raft of calories!