Lisa Markwell: Why I'm backing the 'Greggs tax' (but my teenage son isn't)


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The Independent Online

Well, maybe there's one bit of good news from the Budget – it looks like we might have found an easy way to break teenagers' bad habits before they really begin. Since the NHS may no longer be able to afford to hand out nicotine patches, and is reluctant to operate on obese patients anyway, it's too late for the rest of us. But for anyone under 18 hoping to drink, smoke and scoff their way to an early grave, there's a chance – however unappealing – to save themselves.

The most eye-catching element of this stealth health charter is the so-called "Greggs tax", which adds 20 per cent to the price of hot takeaway food... Recently there's been a new morning ritual in my house. Every day I remove the day before's uneaten sandwich from my son's backpack and replace it with a fresh one – brown bread with cheese, or peanut butter. They're never consumed, he'd rather play football during lunch break and eat something on the way home from school. Which would be fine, if it wasn't usually a takeaway pizza and a toffee milkshake.

His predilection for cheap food is normal for a teenager, but it makes me want to weep. I'd like to think that the "Greggs tax" will help. If it makes one teenager pause before popping into a fast-food outlet (it's not just Greggs, of course) for an artery-hardening pasty instead of a sandwich, and trot home for a healthier snack, that's good news. Combined with the 37p increase on a packet of cigarettes that was also announced as part of the Budget, we might be getting somewhere. At 5 per cent above inflation, the "tabs tax" is to be applauded and – for the first time – I saw this week that the cigarette display in my local supermarket had been hidden behind sliding doors.

And although it's not part of the Budget, a separate announcement of a Government Alcohol Strategy will see a crackdown on multi-buy alcohol and a minimum price of 40p per unit. The squeezed middle might not care too much (although that popular "three bottles of wine for £10" offer would increase to a less catchy and more thought-provoking £11.70). But youngsters who carry cases of cheap lager over to the park and get wasted will be affected. It's a smart move.

It would be naive to think a few pennies more here and there will cause a mass behavioural change among Britain's youth, but to steal a phrase from a place that sells hot food, cheap alcohol and cigarettes, every little helps. Now if only George Osborne could find a way to tax that revolting gap between a young man's underpants and the waistband of his trousers, I'd feel even happier.

Loyalty pays dividends, Sir Alan

Does it matter that The Apprentice perpetuates a business myth, ie that you can be helicoptered into a career at a high level? Probably not, because like all those other TV talent shows, it has nothing to do with reality. In reality, those bestowing the prizes have grafted to the top of their particular tree. On telly, it might be a greengrocer or – um – a reality TV star. Contestants need to see things differently. Peter Cappelli, of the Harvard Business Review believes we need the return of the "organisation man", employees who start at the bottom and stay with one company for their career. It's a practice that – perhaps not coincidentally – is common in emerging markets like China and India. Over to you, Sir Alan...