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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...

UK & World

Presenters claim BBC forced them to set up personal companies

March 4 2018

A group of 170 BBC presenters have accused the corporation of forcing them to set up special tax vehicles to allow it to avoid paying millions in National Insurance contributions (NIC).In an open letter, representatives for the group accused the BBC of lying when it denied asking its staff to set up personal service companies (PSCs).They said they were told they would no longer work for the company if they refused to set up a PSC.Many are now being pursued by HMRC for unpaid tax bills, some running into thousands of pounds.In the letter, the group said: “The BBC did in effect force many presenters, both staff and freelance, into setting up PSCs.“Presenters were told that if they did not form a PSC, the BBC would no longer give them any work.“The BBC paid them through their company for many years. Because they were not employees the BBC avoided paying employer’s National Insurance contributions, currently 13.8% of salary and saved the costs of statutory benefits and pensions.”It added: “The BBC’s press statement attempts to put the moral and financial errors  the BBC has made onto the presenters it engages.”The group are now calling on the BBC to pay some of the unpaid tax bill they have been saddled with.Speaking anonymously to the Telegraph, a well-known TV personality said: “We have sat by for years watching the BBC say this is nothing to do with them, as if we all spontaneously and independently decided  to set up personal service companies at the same time.“We were never given the option of being staff. This was industrial level tax avoidance by the BBC.”They added:  “People have been reluctant to speak out because they don’t want it to look as if big stars are complaining about paying too much tax.“That’s not what this is about. This also affects many local television and radio people who are not paid a lot of money, and are now being investigated. People are seriously upset.”Later this year, presenters Joanna Gosling, Tim Wilcox and David Eades will go to court to fight a joint tax bill of nearly £1 million.A BBC spokesman told the Telegraph: “The use of personal service companies is legal, complies with tax legislation and should not result in any avoidance of the tax or the NIC due to the Exchequer.“The BBC’s use of PSCs was reviewed independently by Deloitte in 2012, which found no evidence of tax avoidance or individuals being forced to move from staff contracts on to PSCs.“Individuals with a PSC usually engage an accountant to file accounts. Their accountant should have been advising them on the implications of IR35.”

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km

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 & World

Scotland braced as up to 30,000 PCS members may strike

June 29 2011

Scotland is bracing itself for major disruption on Thursday when up to 30,000 public sector workers are expected to go on strike to protest against UK government plans for pension reform. The 24-hour industrial action will hit a number of essential services including the coastguard, tax and benefit officials, court workers and even driving test examiners. One of the country's largest trade unions, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), is the only organisation north of the border to take part in the strike. Across the UK, around 250,000 PCS members will walk out on the same day as civil servants in the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, National Union of Teachers, and University and College Union. The PCS have organised picket lines outside courts, government buildings and job centres across the country, with a union rally planned for Edinburgh, and a "massive" one for George Square, Glasgow. Union members are up in arms at the coalition government's proposals to raise the pension age to 66, increase workers' contributions and link pension values to the generally lower consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI). Ministers say the changes are necessary to deal with an ageing population, but unions disagree. Although the industrial action is not universally backed, especially from the private sector, the PCS argue the move aims to protect jobs, pay and pensions. Brian Nairn, a union representative for the PCS in Fife, says most of the job centres in the area will be picketed. "It is a last resort for us," he said. "There are negotiations ongoing but there is a refusal to budge on key issues. We feel going on strike is the only action we can now take. "We, the unions, are together on this and hopefully it can be resolved soon as we think it is unfair that the government want us to pay more for our pension to get the country out of its financial mess that we did not cause."Rescue servicesThere are concerns that strike action will put lives at unnecessary risk with an unknown number of workers at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to walk out. But the organisation stressed rescue operations will continue. At Fife Ness coastguard station near Crail, which is under threat of closure as the MCA looks to streamline its operation, it is not clear how many civil workers might strike. The MCA employs 1139 and has 18 co-ordination centres around the UK. Media officer Fred Caygill said they did not know how many staff might take action but stressed they had contingency plans. RAF Leuchars could also be hit by strike action, with 220 of its 1389 personnel civilian staff. The PCS say, but have not specified, that a number of its members belonging to the civil arm of the Ministry of Defence are earmarked for action. However, an MoD spokesman said it has "robust" contingency plans available.Scottish CourtsIt was a similar response from the Scottish Court Service also braced for disruption. The PCS believes there is a "viable economic alternative" to government plans such as collecting £120 billion in avoided, evaded and uncollected tax. They also urge ministers to invest in jobs and public services for growth. Alan Hinnrichs of the Dundee branch says the government "has attempted to browbeat and bully low-paid workers, firstly by insisting on a de facto pay cut, then saying that public sector workers must pay more for their pensions." This view was not shared by Alan Mitchell, chief executive of the Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce. "The financial problems are such that there needs to be change and I believe the public sector is being naive if it thinks striking will solve anything," he said. The full range of PCS members to strike are: benefit officers, tax officers, policy officers, driving examiners, security officers, coastguards, defence staff, court workers, government drivers, clerical officers, finance officers, staff from museums and galleries and Edinburgh castle, and customs and immigration staff. Neither Dundee City Council nor Perth and Kinross Council expect disruption to services.


PCS Scotland union claims ‘strong’ support for 24-hour strike

March 20 2013

Striking union members in Scotland have come out in "strong" support of a dispute about pay, pensions and working conditions. Timed to mark Budget day at Westminster, the action will hit Scottish Government, Parliament and tax offices, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said. About 85% of members at HM Revenue and Customs office in East Kilbride were taking part in the 24-hour strike, according to PCS Scotland officer Joy Dunn. "Anecdotally, we're hearing it's been very strong across the country. We're getting encouraging feedback from picket lines," she said. The union, which has about 30,000 members in Scotland, said up to 250,000 workers across the UK are expected to join the walkout. As well as core government agencies, the strike involves workers at job centres, border patrols at ports and airports, and courts. Some MSPs supporting the strike refused to enter Holyrood which continued with ordinary parliamentary business. Elaine Smith, Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, said: "PCS's strike today is particularly pertinent on the day George Osborne will outline more austerity measures that will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. "The Labour and trade union movement has fought for decades for the rights of workers and we should not now allow current Westminster and Holyrood governments to take those rights away." Green party co-leader Patrick Harvie said: "SNP ministers have imposed a further real-terms pay cut which, along with increased pension contributions, means yet further raids on the pockets of people working to deliver the public services we all depend on. "The Scottish Government likes to blame the UK coalition but the truth is we have the power in Scotland to end this unfair squeeze."

Motoring news

Join the queue for littlest Audi Q

November 9 2016

Audi’s relentless release of new models continues with the launch of its smallest SUV. The Q2 goes on sale in the UK next week with prices starting at £22,380. There’s an extensive selection of petrol and diesel power trains as well as the option of front or Quattro four-wheel drive. More models will be added to the range later on, including powerful SQ2 and RSQ2 versions. Aimed squarely at a younger audience, the Q2 has bolder, sharper lines and a different shape to Audi’s bigger SUVs, the Q3, Q5 and Q7. Although it’s clearly meant more for buzzing around cities than growling across farmland, cladding and skid plates lend it an aura of ruggedness. Audi is also offering a range of vibrant colours to deepen the Q2’s appeal to youthful buyers. The interior is as plush as you’d expect from Audi, justifying its price hike over similarly sized SUVs like the Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V. The materials are high quality – softtouch plastics, leather on higher spec cars and brushed aluminium trim elements all blended into a smart-looking package. As standard, drivers get a seven-inch infotainment screen on top of the dashboard. It’s operated through Audi’s rotary dial system that’s far more intuitive and easier to use when on the move than rivals’ touchscreen systems. Among the many options is Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit - a 12.3in screen that replaces the manual instruments behind the steering wheel. Overall, the Q2 is 4.7in shorter than the A3 hatchback, but Audi says there’s enough leg and headroom for two adult passengers in the back. Boot space comes in at 405 litres – 50 more than you’ll find in the A3 hatchback and rival Nissan Juke, although it trails the Mini Countryman by the same amount. To begin with, the only diesel option is a 1.6 litre with 114bhp, although a more powerful 184bhp 2.0 litre unit will be added to the range soon. Similarly, the petrol engine range is limited for now but will be expanded by the end of the year. The 1.4 litre, 148bhp unit offered now will be joined by 1.0 litre, 114bhp three cylinder turbo and 2.0 litre, 187bhp options – the latter coming with an S-Tronic automatic gearbox. When it arrives the 1.0 litre petrol version will be the cheapest model in the range with a price tag of £20,230. Courier Motoring has yet to get its hands on the car but early reviews have been very positive and Audi looks to have yet another winner on its hands. jmckeown@thecourier.co.uk

Farming news

Breeding team aiming to dig up another potato success story

October 14 2017

The quest for Scotland’s next multi-million pound potato success story moved a step closer this week with the harvesting of bespoke trials in a Perthshire field. A half-acre plot near Coupar Angus growing 61 different clones was hand-lifted by a six-man squad and transported to the James Hutton Institute (JHI) for months of assessment and cooking tests alongside potatoes from an identical site in Lincolnshire which were lifted last week. The breeding programme is being conducted by James Hutton Limited for a consortium which includes Grampian Growers, Skea Organics and E Park and Son. It started in 2012 and is now in the second year of ware trials, but it might take another six years to select a winner. However potato breeder Vanessa Young said some samples were already looking promising. “It’s quite exciting. There’s some good material here and we’re looking forward to having a better look at it. We have stuff which we might potentially fast track at this stage if we identify a front runner,” she said. “At the moment we have quite a lot of quality data and information on PCN resistance. Some samples are looking promising with dual golden and white PCN resistance. We will review the data and report to the group’s annual meeting at the beginning of the year.” Ms Young said the target was a PCN-resistant variety that was suitable for a number of different markets. She added: “Originally it was just a white or cream-fleshed variety for the fresh market but now we are interested in a processing variety for chipping, salads and crisping so we’re looking at a range of material.” Grampian Growers managing director Mark Clark and potato manager David Murdie were on the field overseeing the dig alongside the co-operative’s farmer members who were invited for a first glimpse of potential new varieties. Mr Clark emphasised the importance of finding a successor to Gemson, the co-operative’s multi-million pound success story. “We started growing Gemson commercially eight years ago and it now represents 30% of our tonnage and accounts for 48% of total business turnover,” he said. “We grew 185ha of Gemson seed this season and that will rise to 250ha next year. If we didn’t have Gemson these trials wouldn’t be happening.” Mr Murdie pointed out that Gemson had been discovered at the same stage two ware trials. “We’re aware of 10 very obvious possibilities to take forward in the samples we’ve seen so far and around 10 will be easily discounted," he said . "The problem will be making the decision on the other 40.” nnicolson@thecourier.co.uk

Motoring news

Form an orderly Q for Audi SUV

August 10 2016

First there was the Q7. Then the Q5 and Q3. All have been a phenomenal success for Audi. I’d be surprised if that script changes when the Q2 arrives in November. Audi’s baby SUV is available to order now with prices starting at £22,380. Can’t quite stretch to that? Don’t worry, an entry level three-cylinder 1.0 litre version will be available later this year with a cover tag of £20,230. From launch, there are three trim levels available for the Q2 called SE, Sport and S Line. The range-topping Edition #1 model will be available to order from next month priced from £31,170. While the entry-level 113bhp 1.0-litre unit isn’t available right away, engines you can order now include a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel and 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol unit, both with manual or S tronic automatic transmissions. Also joining the Q2 line-up from September is the 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 148bhp or 187bhp. This unit comes with optional Quattro all-wheel drive. A 2.0 litre petrol with Quattro and S tronic joins the range next year. Standard equipment for the new Audi Q2 includes a multimedia infotainment system with rotary/push-button controls, supported with sat-nav. Audi’s smartphone-friendly interface, 16in alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and heated and electric mirrors are all also standard for the Audi. Along with the optional Audi virtual cockpit and the head-up display, the driver assistance systems for the Audi Q2 also come from the larger Audi models – including the Audi pre sense front with pedestrian recognition that is standard. The system recognises critical situations with other vehicles as well as pedestrians crossing in front of the vehicle, and if necessary it can initiate hard braking – to a standstill at low speeds. Other systems in the line-up include adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go function, traffic jam assist, the lane-departure warning system Audi side assist, the lane-keeping assistant Audi active lane assist, traffic sign recognition and rear cross-traffic assist.

UK & World

BBC saved £10m yearly on NI payments by paying presenters through PSCs, MPs told

March 20 2018

The BBC saved around £10 million a year on National Insurance payments alone by paying presenters through personal companies, MPs have been told.Radio and TV presenters told a parliamentary committee they were told by the BBC they must set up personal service companies (PSCs) or lose work, but then found themselves targeted by an HM Revenue and Customs crackdown on the arrangement.The House of Commons Culture Committee published a dossier of evidence detailing how stars were pursued for unpaid taxes running into five or six figures, with some saying they had suffered mental health problems and even considered suicide.With around 100 presenters thought to be facing investigation and some reported to be considering legal action, the BBC has established an independent dispute resolution process which might lead to it paying a share of historic bills for employer’s National Insurance.But the Corporation declined an invitation to come to Parliament and give evidence to the Culture Committee at a hearing alongside four well-known presenters who spoke out about their treatment.Financial journalist Paul Lewis, the presenter of Radio 4’s Money Box, told the committee the PSC arrangement could have saved the BBC 30% of the cost of employing presenters, some of whom lost rights to sick pay, maternity leave and pensions. Around £10 million was saved annually on employer’s National Insurance contributions alone, he estimated.The BBC could face claims for compensation running into tens of millions over loss of pension rights, the committee heard.Mr Lewis – who himself refused to set up a PSC – told MPs that relatively low-paid presenters on local radio and Radios 3 and 4 were treated as “disposable” by the BBC.“This isn’t a story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax,” he said. “This is the story of the BBC forcing hundreds of presenters to form companies and treat them as freelancers because that gave the BBC flexibility and protected licence fee payers.”Mr Lewis said a group of presenters was due in court next week, while hundreds more were “fearing the brown envelope” from HMRC.Kirsty Lang, the presenter of Radio 4’s Front Row, said she gave up a staff post when asked by the BBC to form a PSC, despite fears about losing rights to sick pay.She said “all my worst fears came true” after her stepdaughter died and she found herself unable to get bereavement leave, and was then diagnosed with cancer and had to work through surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.“I entered into this whole arrangement in good faith, I trusted the BBC, I was proud to be part of the BBC, and I feel like I have been hung out to dry,” said Ms Lang. “I feel betrayed, and I ask ‘Where is the duty of care to me and my colleagues’?”DJ Liz Kershaw said she spent six months presenting her 6 Music show without payment after ceasing a PSC arrangement.She said she was warned by her accountant that PSC status was doubtful, and it had offered no advantage to her. She suggested the BBC may have lied by informing her and other presenters that HMRC backed the arrangement.“I think it’s a tragedy that this mismanagement will lead to millions of pounds possibly being taken out of the coffers to rightfully compensate people who have been taken out of the pension scheme or gone through hell to the point where they have nearly taken their own life,” Ms Kershaw told the committee.She blamed the situation on a secretive and “oligarchical” management style under former director general Mark Thompson. She read out a series of emails and letters in which she was told that she must take on PSC status.Mr Lewis told the committee: “The BBC’s point of view is that no-one was forced, but the evidence is that if you didn’t do it, you didn’t work.”And he added: “At the same time the BBC makes savings through PSCs, there haven’t been that many savings at the management level. “There are a lot of very, very well-paid people in management and we don’t think all of them are doing a very good job.”The BBC announced on Monday that the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) will conduct an independent process under which presenters will be able to ask for a review of their cases.The Corporation said in a statement that it had “always tried to balance our responsibilities to presenters with our responsibility to spend the licence fee appropriately”.But committee chairman Damian Collins told the presenters: “I think a lot of people will be quite shocked by what you have said, and feel this is well below the standards we expect of the BBC.”