By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value’s owner yesterday urged the Government to publish its list of Value-Added Tax (VAT) ‘exempt’ items, and called for prices to be confined to store shelves - not the products.
Rupert Roberts, who is also the supermarket chain’s president, told Tribune Business that the private sector would “not co-operate” with ‘fewer exemptions’ - as promised by the Prime Minister - as it wanted almost zero.
And he expressed concern about the VAT ‘transition’ that will take place at year-end, given that it would require his food stores to re-price an average 37,000 items overnight.
Mr Roberts said the Government’s revised VAT structure, with no proportionate reduction in Customs duties, meant “a 7.5 per cent increase in the cost of living, and that’s what we have to gear up for”.
“It’s just what I expected, just what I thought they’d do,” Mr Roberts added of the Government’s revised VAT plan.
“We will not co-operate with ‘fewer exemptions’. It’s got to be simple like the New Zealanders said, and if they give us a more complicated VAT, no one will co-operate. I guess they’ll get us in again, relaunch and pitch it back to us.”
He added: “The exemptions is what bothered the private sector. It leaves you with dirty math, and we don’t want dirty math. The Government can’t handle dirty math.
“I’d love to know what those exemptions are. Every exemption costs us money.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie, in his Budget communication, strongly hinted that most food items, especially ‘breadbasket’ ones, would no longer be treated as VAT ‘exempt’
Such a status meant that food retailers would be unable to claim back VAT ‘input’ payments in proportion to the percentage of such items they stocked, and ‘breadbasket’ items account for up to 80 per cent of food store inventories.
The Prime Minister also moved away from previous plans for retailers to display VAT ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ - with and without VAT - pricing on their products.
Retailers had complained about the cost and time involved with this, and the fact it would remind consumers about the VAT increases - something they feared getting blamed for.
However, Mr Roberts yesterday suggested that prices be confined to the “tape” on store shelves where the respective products are situated, rather than applied to them.
This, he argued, would both make the January 1 transition easier for retailers and also minimise consumer concerns.
“We’ve got 37,000 items in a store and it will take forever to do the shift over,” Mr Roberts explained. “We can’t close Sunday night and open Monday morning with new prices.
“Retailers want VAT on the tape. Merchants have been calling me today asking me for my opinion.”
Mr Roberts added that price increases spread across 37,000 items would leave many consumers “screaming blue murder”.
“It’s going to leave a bad taste and last a long time,” he added.