Ginsters owner's £100,000 to Tories days after pasty tax
A boss of Cornish pasty firm Ginsters has donated £100,000 to the Conservative Party amid the controversy over George Osborne's "pasty tax".
Mark Samworth, a director of food company Samworth Brothers, which owns Cornwall-based Ginsters, is a long-standing contributor to the party's finances.
According to the Electoral Commission, his latest round of donations were submitted at the end of last month – just weeks after the Budget revealed VAT at 20 per cent would apply to all "hot" takeaway food, ending exemptions for pasties.
The Labour Party seized on the figures and Ginsters' association with selling "cold" pasties, which will continue to be free of the service tax, arguing the cash smacked of "cash for policies".
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Leicestershire-based Samworth Brothers said it had "made no representations" on the "pasty tax", underlining that Ginsters had signed the Cornish Pasty Association protest petition against the change.
In a statement, the firm said: "The donation was made in a personal capacity and has no connection to the business. Mark Samworth has made similar donations for a number of years at around the same time of year."
But Karl Turner, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East, said: "This smells worse than a mouldy pasty. Just days after George Osborne slapped a massive tax hike on 'hot' pies, the Tories got a six-figure donation from someone who makes 'cold' snacks. This could reheat David Cameron's cash-for-policies scandal."
The Electoral Commission watchdog figures for the first quarter of 2012 show that Mr Samworth made three separate donations to the Conservatives – one worth £90,000 to Central Office, another of £5,000 to the Rutland and Melton branch of the party and a third, also of £5,000, to its Rushcliffe arm.
Ginsters, which began life as an egg-packing business, is based in Callington, South East Cornwall, and employs about 700 staff. The firm was bought by Samworth Brothers in 1977, and the group also owns Kensey Foods in Launceston.
A spokesman for the firm said: "Ginsters has made no representations to Government on this issue. The hot pasty tax has an impact on Ginsters and we signed the Cornish Pasty Association protest petition against the tax.
"Over the past 18 months, Ginsters has been rolling out a hot pasty concept 'Have me hot' in service stations, on the rail network and coffee shop locations and this is a developing business for us with more than 200 outlets.
"We also sell paninis and toasties at 'Have me hot', which are also affected by the tax. Other of our businesses provide heated food products for retailers.
"We are keen to see a thriving 'hot' Cornish pasty sector – many are Cornish businesses and as a major supporter of the Cornwall economy, we are keen to see these businesses do well. It also raises interest and sales across the entire pasty category."
A Government consultation on tackling VAT "anomalies" ended last Friday. If the proposals go ahead, any food sold above "ambient" surrounding temperature will be VAT-able at 20 per cent. It would add 50p to a £2.50 pasty that is currently not liable.
The Cornish Pasty Association, of which Ginsters is a member, has been at the forefront of the campaign to get Chancellor George Osborne to offer exemptions to baked goods, arguing they are very different products to takeaway fish and chips and other "take-away" food.
The pasty industry estimates it would lead to 400 redundancies in Cornwall alone and a £100 million hit.
Ministers have said they are "listening" to proposals put forward by Westcountry MPs to exempt pasties that are not reheated or kept warm in heater cabinets.
Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, said Ginsters operated in a completely different market to bakeries, which had been leading the campaign.
She added: "It is clear that Ginsters do not sell hot baked products. I would like to see definitive evidence that somebody from Samworth Brothers lobbied for the introduction of this tax before I make a comment.
"I have no reason to believe Ginsters has not supported the bakers in their campaign, if Mark Samworth has said that is the case. Ginsters is a very important employer in my constituency and it makes a vast contribution to the community."