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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...


Scotland ‘lags behind’ in top civil service jobs for women

January 26 2016

The Scottish Government "clearly lags behind" England and Wales when it comes to the number of women who hold top jobs in the Civil Service, a new report has revealed. In 2015 the proportion of senior Civil Service (SCS) posts in the Scottish Government that are held by women dropped to 35%, the same as in 2011, research by professional services firm EY found. In England the rate rose from 35% in 2011 to 39% in 2015, while in the Welsh Government 47% of leading Civil Service posts are held by females, up from 38% in 2011. The EY report said in 2013 women made up 40% of senior civil servants in the Scottish Government and stated: "In comparison to Wales and England Scotland clearly lags behind." Overall the UK ranks fourth in the G20 and first among European G20 nations on the proportion of women who are senior government officials, with a rate of 38.7% - putting it 1.1 percentage points behind South Africa, 1.4 points behind Australia and a more substantial 7.4 points behind the leader, Canada. However Scotland did have one of the smallest pay gaps in the Civil Service at 0.6%, compared with the UK average of 6.3% difference between male and female senior civil servants in core departments. The research found that the UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) was the only one with a pay differential which favoured women, who on average earn 1.5% more than their male counterparts. Neil MacLean, head of government and public sector at EY in Scotland, said: "Scotland's public sector is a leading example in terms of equal pay. These figures prove Scotland is edging closer to eliminating the gender pay inequality and sets a fine example. "However, disparity still exists in Scotland and the wider UK despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act proving legislation alone isn't enough. "There needs to be a concerted effort across the Civil Service to tackle the hidden economic and social barriers that stand in the way of equal pay for women." He added: "In the future we can expect the representation of women in senior government positions in Scotland to expand. Nicola Sturgeon set the agenda following her appointment as the first female First Minister of Scotland in 2014 when she selected a 50/50 gender balanced Cabinet, only the third in the developed world at the time. "Further measures are being taken to improve on female representation in Civil Service which, when coupled with the small gender pay gap, demonstrates the commitment of Scotland's public sector to gender parity." The Scottish Government's Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, told the report: "The Scottish Government has been working hard to address the gender pay gap in our organisation and it's encouraging to see these results." The Scottish Government also encourages public, private and third sector bodies to commit to having a 50/50 gender balance on their boards by 2020. Ms Evans added: "This is part of a broader commitment to improving women's equality and tackling gender segregation across Scottish society. "Proposed new regulations will extend the requirement on public bodies in Scotland to publish information on their gender pay gap and equal pay statements. This will mean greater transparency with all bodies of more than 20 employees required to disclose this information. "So we can't rest on our laurels but will continue to lead by example by making this a priority at every level of the Scottish Government."


‘I was quite scared and confused’ Edinburgh man believes he spotted Bigfoot in Fife countryside

April 8 2016

A man told his mum he saw a Bigfoot roaming the Fife countryside after reading about a similar experience in The Courier. Mark Luke, 46, from Edinburgh broke his silence for the first time after struggling to come to terms with what happened for over a decade. He decided to speak out after stumbling across an online article from last year on The Courier website while researching his own alleged encounter. Mr Luke, who is a carer, said he spotted the mythical beast just off the Tay Road Bridge in 2005 whilst travelling to Dundee to fill in for nightshift security cover. His sighting happened in the same year that a former civil servant from Fife reported seeing a creature at the Five Roads Roundabout when he was driving home from work. Just like Mr Luke, the civil servant had also told nobody at the time and only spoke publicly about what happened some 10 years later. Mr Luke said: “I had a similar encounter driving back to Edinburgh from nightshift security in Dundee, around 8am, on the A92 south in the same rough are. “I can remember a forest and I looked to my left to see a tall dark shape standing 20 feet away in the trees. “At first I thought it was a man but then it came towards me. “He must have been huge, some eight to ten feet tall, and really wide. “I was quite scared and confused to be honest. “I was doing 60mph and I was not going back to look. “It was dark under the trees. “I could see shape but no detail. “I only told my mother after reading the story in The Courier.” Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot and consider it to be a combination of folklore, misidentification, and hoax, rather than a living animal, because of the lack of physical evidence and the large numbers of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population. Mr Luke said: “I’m 90% sure they are out there, “I wont ever be 100% sure until I see a body or capture one. “There’s too many unexplained things still out there.” Mr Luke has now joined the British Bigfoot Research team in a bid to track down the truth.

Hand-delivering Article 50 letter cost almost £1,000

February 9 2018

The Government spent almost £1,000 hand-delivering the Article 50 letter declaring the UK’s intention to leave the EU to Brussels, it has been revealed.Two civil servants travelled to the Belgian capital with the letter by Channel Tunnel train on return business-class tickets costing £491.50 each, said the Foreign Office.The terms of Article 50 of the EU treaties state only that a country wishing to leave the EU is required to “notify the European Council of its intention”, and it is understood that this could have been done by email.However, it was decided that the historic letter would be handed over to European Council president Donald Tusk by UK permanent representative Sir Tim Barrow in person on March 29 2017.In response to a Freedom of Information request, the UK Representation to the EU said that the cost of two Eurostar Business Premier tickets, including a £1.50 booking fee and £2.50 change fee, came to £985.50.“There were no other quantifiable costs associated with their travel,” said the response. “Meals were provided on the Eurostar and the two civil servants stayed overnight at the Residence.“The letter was then delivered to the President of the European Council by Sir Tim Barrow as part of his duties as UK Permanent Representative to the European Union at no additional cost.”Business Premier is the most expensive passenger ticket offered on regular Eurostar services, with standard tickets typically retailing for around £89-£159 each way.The company’s website states that the ticket includes “hot meals designed by Raymond Blanc, served with champagne”, along with spacious seats, use of an “exclusive” lounge, a taxi-booking service and the option of changes and cancellation free of charge.Holders of Business Premier tickets can turn up at the gate up to 10 minutes before departure, rather than 45 minutes with standard tickets.

This student took his Tinder profile to the next level by turning it into a PowerPoint presentation

February 21 2018

Standing out from the crowd on Tinder can be tough, but with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint a British student has managed just that – and gone viral in the process.Sam Dixey, a 21-year-old studying at Leeds University, made a six-part slideshow entitled “Why you should swipe right” – using pictures and bullet points to shrewdly persuade potential dates to match with him on the dating app. The slideshow includes discussion of his social life and likes, such as “petting doggos” and “laser tag”, and “other notable qualities and skills” – such as being “not the worst at sex” and “generous when drunk”.It even has reviews mocked up from sources such as “Donald Trump”, “Leonardo Di Capri Sun” and “The Times Guide to Pancakes 2011”.Sam told the Press Association the six-slide presentation only took about 20 minutes to make and “started off as a joke”.However, since being posted to Twitter by fellow Tinder user Gracie Barrow, Sam’s slideshow has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media.So, it’s got the seal of approval form Gracie, but how has the slideshow fared on Tinder? “I’d have to say it has been pretty successful,” Sam said. “Definitely a clear correlation of matches and dates beforehand to afterwards.“Most of the responses tend to revolve around people saying ‘I couldn’t help swipe right 10/10’ but I’ve had some people go the extra mile and message me on Facebook.“Plus some people have recognised me outside, in the library and on dates.”A resounding success.

UK politics

“Hypocrisy knows no bounds” — David Cameron attacked for giving huge pay rises to advisers

August 30 2016

David Cameron gave some of his special advisers bumper pay rises just months before they were given generous severance packages, it has been reported. The former prime minister upped the salary of some of his advisers, known as spads, by as much as £18,000, or up to 24%, according to analysis by Civil Service World. The double digit hikes were ordered despite pay being capped at just 1% across the public sector. Trade unions and taxpayer groups said the increases are "shameful" at a time when Government departments have faced cuts. Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior officials, told Civil Service World: "It would seem hypocrisy knows no bounds from a prime minister who preached pay restraint and austerity to public servants and the public, whilst at the same time awarding double-digit pay rises to his special advisers." He added: "It will be a further body blow to the morale of thousands of hard-working civil servants to learn that the very same special advisers who received enhanced redundancy terms from the outgoing prime minister also received pay rises of up to 24% in one year." John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Taxpayers will be shocked at the size of these increases at a time of necessary spending restraint. "While spads can help ministers implement their decisions it's important to strike a balance and deliver value for taxpayers. Politicians talk about bringing down the cost of politics but it's important to follow it up with action." The revelations come just a month after it emerged that Mr Cameron overruled strongly worded civil service advice and boosted the golden goodbyes he gave his special advisers. He ignored concerns raised by civil service chief executive John Manzoni to hand his staff an extra £282,000 in severance pay because of his resignation. Seven out of 10 of the Downing Street advisers reappointed after last year's general election - and who therefore became entitled to bigger severance packages - received pay rises of up to 24% in 2015, according to Civil Service World. This far outstripped the 2% average pay award across the private sector in 2015. Adam Atashzai, one of the spads given an enhanced severance package, saw his salary increase from less than £58,200 in 2014 to £72,000 in 2015 - up 24%. He was also awarded an MBE in Mr Cameron's resignation honours list. Ameet Gill, former director of strategy, and Liz Sugg, former head of operations at No 10, both reportedly received pay rises of 23% - sending their salaries from £80,000 in 2014 to £98,000 in 2015. Ms Sugg was given a life peerage in the wake of Mr Cameron's resignation. And special adviser Kate Marley went from being on Pay Band 1 in 2014 which is capped at £54,121, to earning £65,000 in 2015, an increase of at least 20%, it was reported. Daniel Korski, former deputy director of the No 10 policy unit, had a 16% pay increase from £80,000 in 2014 to £93,000 in 2015, it was reported. Special adviser Nick Seddon, who was awarded an MBE, benefited from an 11% pay rise last year, with his salary increased to £88,000, Civil Service World said. Other advisers and speechwriters including Max Chambers, Laura Trott, Richard Parr, Martha Varney, and Kate Shouesmith all enjoyed pay increases, according to the report. And Frances Trivett, the political private secretary to the prime minister's chiefs of staff, progressed from being in a Pay Band capped at £40,352 a year, to Pay Band 1 in 2015 - capped at £52,999 a year. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, told Civil Service World: "We believe that every civil servant deserves a decent pay rise. It is frankly shameful that David Cameron thinks that this should just apply to his close circle of political friends." He added: "Our members will be rightly outraged by the double standards of a prime minister who richly rewards a privileged few, while ignoring the falling living standards of hundreds of thousands of dedicated civil servants." A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "Decisions about special adviser salaries take into account various factors including the level of responsibility associated with a particular role and the background and experience of the individual concerned. "These increases, which were agreed by the then prime minister, reflected changes to the scope and range of responsibility in the roles of a number of special advisers following their reappointment after the 2015 general election."


Dundee civil servant David Holmes

January 17 2011

Dundee man David Holmes has died at Ninewells Hospital after a long illness. Born in Dundee in 1937, he attended Harris Academy and did his national service at RAF Leuchars. His civil service career, specifically with HM Customs and Excise, saw him progress from trainee to trainer during his many appointments across the UK, including responsibility for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Scotland. Mr Holmes was involved in many organisations and activities. He was a lifelong member of the Boys' Brigade, latterly as captain of the 44th St Aidan's in Broughty Ferry where he was an elder, continuing at Broughty Ferry New Kirk. Keen to support and encourage young people, he joined Dundee Children's Panel in 1988, which he chaired from 1996 until he retired in 2002. He showed a great ability to work with the many agencies involved in children's welfare by identifying common ground to work for the benefit of Dundee youngsters. As a boy, Mr Holmes learned the bagpipes, a passion he pursued all his life. He won many championships and was a member of The Royal Scottish Pipers' Society. He was also a keen bowler with Broughty Bowling Club. A lifelong supporter of Dundee United, he was a proud Dundonian with a wonderful warmth and sense of humour. Mr Holmes' first wife, Irene, died in 1983. He is survived by his wife, Norma, children David, Peter and Gillian and stepchildren Mark and Cate, and doted on his 11 grandchildren. His funeral is on Friday at 1pm at Broughty Ferry New Kirk, followed by private cremation in Dundee.

Public services suffering in NI because of lack of ministers

January 24 2018

Public services are suffering in Northern Ireland because of lack of direction from ministers, the head of the civil service has said.Civil servants are frustrated, David Sterling said, by a stalemate which has put devolved government on hold for a year.He said “budget certainty” for the next financial year must be secured by February 8 and warned the sums available were due to fall in real terms.“There is a strong sense of frustration, 23,000 civil servants, we care passionately about the community of people and there is a sense of commitment amongst civil servants to provide good quality public services.“There is a frustration and we do fervently want to see a return of ministers and functioning Executive and Assembly.”He said civil servants were following policy directions set by ministers a year ago but the circumstances had changed and policies should adjust.“We have not reached a shutdown point but the reality is public services are suffering as a consequence of this because we are not getting the direction that we need.”Decisions need to be made on spending allocations to under-pressure areas like education and health.Parliament is due to rise early next month, meaning a delay in passing a spending plan for next year unless there is progress before then.Mr Sterling said: “In my view it will be incredibly difficult for us if we don’t have budget certainty by February 8.”He called for clarity about total cash allocations from the beginning of April for Stormont departments.If renewed political talks at Stormont do not produce a breakthrough, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will be under pressure to step in and draw up next year’s budget herself in consultation with civil servants.Hugh Widdis, permanent secretary of the Department for Finance, said Ms Bradley had not indicated that she was prepared to take such decisions yet.He added: “The Secretary of State’s focus, quite rightly, is very much on getting the devolved institutions back.”The DUP negotiated a confidence and supply arrangement of extra funding for areas like broadband and roads as part of their deal to support the minority Tory Government.Legislative action at Westminster is needed to spend that within a wider budget, the senior civil servants told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs.Ian Paisley, DUP MP for North Antrim, said the public wanted ministers to spend that money now.He added: “There are no strings attached, it is a bonus, you have won the lottery, please spend the money.”

Scottish politics

Sturgeon’s officials warn her of ‘very costly’ basic income plan that public won’t buy

October 18 2017

Proposals backed by Nicola Sturgeon to give every Scot a minimum income would cost a third of Scotland’s budget and lead to huge tax hikes, warn her own officials. The First Minister pledged last month to help councils trial a system providing basic income for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Fife Council is one of the frontrunners for developing a pilot scheme, which could eventually hand individuals about £8,000 a year. The policy, which would do away with most benefit payments, is being pursued in the face of major concerns raised by civil servants over its £12.3bn annual cost, economic impact and public reception, as revealed in an official briefing. Handed to Ms Sturgeon in March, the document stated that universal basic income (UBI) is a “very costly policy that is unlikely to gain public acceptability and ultimately may not have the desired transformative effect”. A senior civil servant said it would have to be bankrolled by higher taxation, with all earnings beyond the tax-free basic income likely to be subject to a 50% rate. There would also be “little incentivising impact” for work and was “more likely to further entrench gender stereotyping”, added the briefing. Under the sums put forward by St Andrew’s House, the £12.3bn annual cost would be partly offset with additional tax revenue and national insurance contributions of £8.8bn, leaving a shortfall of £3.6bn. Adam Tomkins, for the Scottish Conservatives, which obtained the briefing, accused Ms Sturgeon of “pandering to the left” by “creating an impression” she was going to introduce a policy she knows is “utterly unaffordable and not remotely sustainable”. “Instead of playing to the gallery, the First Minister should explain exactly where she’s going to find the extra £12.3 billion that would be required each year to fund it,” he added. Councillors in Fife last month agreed to develop a business case for running a universal basic income trial. It is expected to run over two years in a town with a population between 2,000 and 5,000. Its proponents say that UBI helps eradicate poverty by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living and frees the state from the expensive bureaucracy of distributing benefits payments. A spokesman for Angela Constance, the communities secretary, said: “Clearly a nationwide citizen’s basic income would be a significant financial investment – and the document does not suggest that this could be £12.3bn as the Tories wrongly claim - but the whole point is that it could potentially lead to significant savings elsewhere in the social security system and in the wider public sector.”

Scottish politics

EXCLUSIVE: Sturgeon tells staff to be ready for indyref2

February 9 2017

Scottish civil servants have been warned the SNP could demand a second independence referendum within weeks. Sources close to the top of the non-political arm of the Scottish Government say they have received notice Nicola Sturgeon is considering pushing for the Section 30 order required to make any constitutional vote legal, sooner rather than later. The SNP administration last night confirmed the option of another plebiscite was “very much on the table,” although it is understood no explicit work has been handed out to staff. Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “The people of Scotland don’t want another independence referendum. It really is as simple as that. “The decision was made decisively in 2014 and doesn’t need to be revisited. “Nicola Sturgeon should be true to her own word and acknowledge that the polls don’t support a separation re-run.” The latest twist comes after The Courier revealed Downing Street is preparing for Ms Sturgeon to request a second referendum is held in August 2018. Theresa May’s team is “war gaming” as speculation intensifies that the SNP leader will announce her intention to return to the polls at her party’s conference next month. Ms Sturgeon has said another referendum is increasingly likely in the wake of the Brexit vote, but she would need UK Government permission for a second legally-binding vote. https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/politics/scottish-politics/365652/exclusive-uk-government-preparing-nicola-sturgeon-demand-indyref2-august-2018-articleisfree/ It is understood Ms Sturgeon first spoke to civil servants in the aftermath of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech, where she made clear the UK would not be a member of the single market post Brexit, with one senior figure saying they received the news ahead of the First Minister and Prime Minister’s meeting in Cardiff last Monday. Asked about The Courier’s story following Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the PM’s spokesman said: “We don’t believe there should be a second referendum. “There was a referendum in 2014. It was decisive, clear and legal. Both sides agreed they would abide by the result.” A senior Labour insider said: “Voters will despair to hear that our two nationalist governments are preparing the groundwork for a second independence referendum.” A Scottish Government source said: “We remain engaged in a serious effort to protect Scotland’s place in the single market through the compromise proposals we have put on the table. “It is up to the UK Government to match that compromise. “But we have made clear an independence referendum is very much on the table as an option if it becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our vital national interests.”