I read the question from Joanna Eeles at Sugar and Spice but felt that Mike Beattie did not in fact answer it. Did you know that several big name chefs have had run ins with HM Custom Excise. In fact in the financial year 1993/94 alone 115,000 small catering businesses were made bankrupt, according to the National Audit Office and an article in the Daily Mail. Who are the biggest sufferers in the present business climate?

Secondly, value added tax as we know it is a sales tax. Take any business you like from motorcars to confectionery, as Mike Beattie touched on. A car costing £20,000 has a VAT tab of £3,500, or 17.5 per cent of the selling price.

Thirdly, to establish the VAT (Sales tax) on takeaway and restaurants HMC&E devised the “VAT fraction”. But since 70 per cent of university students are deficient in maths, and this is the cream of our education system, what does the average consumer know about using such figures?

This brings me to my fourth point, reported in the Financial Mail on August 10, 1997, in which Neville Abraham, vice-chairman of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, said that 95 per cent of restaurants close or change hands within two years of opening.

I have been fighting a lone battle with HMC&E since January 1996, when I started to pay VAT the correct way – I had had a two-year income tax investigation followed by a two-year VAT investigation. I’ve been to a VAT tribunal where the HMC&E could not prove me wrong. They blocked my chances of taking it to the High Court and diverted me into the bankruptcy court but I had property and sold this and averted bankruptcy.

I am continuing to pay VAT the correct way and when I tell you that every registered business in the EU is paying too much VAT you can understand why they are trying to keep me quiet.

I have been in touch with the Treasury, the National Audit Office and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, through my MP, as well as the European Commission, which rudely told me they do not answer questions.

Gordon Brown never replies. Michael Howard has been made fully aware of the facts, but being out of office he can’t do anything anyway. Like everyone else he acknowledges my letters but gives no answers or commitment. Even the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales will not answer my question on the VAT fraction.

My final attempt, in light of its recent clampdown on credit card charges, was the Office of Fair Trading. I wrote to Sir John Vickers, the chairman, and received an answer from a subordinate giving the same repeated answer that it is not their responsibility.

Alex Dyball, founder of The Dolphin, a fish and chip shop in Ballymena



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