Baroness Warsi talks pasties, Portas and apprenticeships during Gloucester visit
PASTIES, Portas and apprenticeships – Britain’s most powerful Muslim woman has got a lot on her mind.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative party and member of the coalition’s cabinet, visited Gloucester yesterday to meet community leaders and talk shop with The Citizen.
In an exclusive interview, Mrs Warsi admitted empty shops did put people off shopping centres, but said her government was trying to improve the outlook for places like Gloucester.
She said: “We can’t always make commitments on everything, we need to create the right culture, the right environment for businesses to grow.
“Every one of us knows that if there’s one thing which makes a town go down it’s when shops are boarded up or made up of lots of cheap outlets and charity shops. The great British high street will change with time, but I think there is still the attraction of having small independent local shops.”
The news comes after Gloucester was awarded £100,000 in grant funding from central government, and applied for a slice of shopping guru Mary Portas’s “fighting fund”.
But Mrs Warsi defended the Government’s decision not to scrap a 5.6 per cent hike in business rates, and claimed the Government had found other ways to ease the burden.
She said: “You have got to understand [business rates] are a source of income for local authorities. We have put money in to make sure everyone benefits by making sure the council tax is frozen.”
And ahead of The Citizen’s apprenticeship awards last night, she said her party had gone into government faced with “huge problems” with NEETS – young people who are not in education, employment or training.
She said: “We felt we needed to respond to that.
“We can only give people real apprenticeships when they are based around real businesses. What we really want from an apprentice is someone who can really grow with the business.”
She said it was important to “measure the outcome” of apprenticeships, but declined to comment on a recent Panorama revelation that some recipients of grants had not been checked by Ofsted. I didn’t see the Panorama programme, but I can comment as a person who has run a small business. £1,500 is a lot of money, but a small or medium-sized business is not going to ruin its future by taking that and not doing anything with it.”
She also joined the debate on the controversial “pasty tax”, after reading about Janes Pantry’s petition to scrap the addition of 20 per cent in VAT charges to hot pies and pastries.
She said the equivalent during her working-class upbringing in Yorkshire was the chip butty.
She said: “I pay 20 per cent tax on a chip butty, why shouldn’t I pay it on a pasty? You can make an emotional campaign out of anything and it’s very easy to throw that back at people who might have had the privilege of a great education, like some of my colleagues.”
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