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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 politics

Fife workers among those worst affected by Chancellor’s National Insurance hike

March 9 2017

Fife is among the parts of Scotland that will be hardest hit by the Chancellor’s tax raid on the self-employed. Of the 50 places in the country that will be most affected by the National Insurance hike, 14 are in the kingdom or Perth & Kinross, according to figures from the Federation of Small Businesses. Fifteen per cent of workers in Pittenweem are self-employed, followed by 14% in Comrie. The place with the highest proportion of people who work for themselves in Scotland is Ullapool (18%). Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said: “The Chancellor’s £1bn tax hike on those that work for themselves is the wrong move at the wrong time.” The changes would see millions of self-employed workers pay an average of £240 more a year. The Institute for Fiscal Studies backed the Chancellor’s decision, saying: "A tax system which charges thousands of pounds more in tax for employees doing the same job as someone else needs reform.”

Politics

Benefits cuts plan passes first hurdle

January 9 2013

The Government’s plan for a real-terms cut in working-age benefits has cleared its first Commons hurdle, after heated exchanges between coalition and Labour MPs. MPs voted by 324 to 268 to give the legislation a second reading but former Liberal Democrat minister Sarah Teather rebelled and warned attacks on the poor could lead to the “fragmentation” of society. Labour branded the plan a “strivers’ tax”, as 68% of households caught by the below-inflation rise in benefits were in work. But Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith accused Labour of tying working families into the benefits system and “buying votes” by increasing handouts. The Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill limits rises in most working-age benefits to 1% in 2014-15 and 2015-2016 instead of linking them to inflation. Similar measures for 2013-14 will be introduced separately. A Labour bid to block the Bill and insist on a “compulsory jobs guarantee” was defeated by 328 votes to 262. Mr Duncan Smith said that since the beginning of the recession incomes for those in work have risen by about 10% but for those on benefits they have risen by about 20%. He said: “What we are trying to do over the next few years is get that back to a fair settlement and then eventually it will go back on to inflation.” But shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne claimed the Bill was a “hit and run on working families” who were paying the price for the Chancellor’s economic failure. “Millionaires will have £107,000 more from next year to help them heat the swimming pool,” he said. “It’s not Britain’s millionaires who are picking up the tab, it is Britain’s working families. This bill is a strivers’ tax, pure and simple.” Labour former foreign secretary David Miliband described the bill as “rancid” and claimed it was motivated by party politics. Ms Teather, who lost her job as children and families minister last September, hit out at the way the arguments over the below-inflation rise had been characterised as a division between “shirkers and strivers.” In the Autumn Statement Mr Osborne said the measure was about “being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits”. But Ms Teather said: “A fissure already exists between the working and non-working poor. Hammering on that faultline with the language of shirkers and strivers will have long-term impacts on public attitudes, on attitudes of one neighbour against another.”

Scottish politics

Scottish growth forecast to be half of UK’s as SNP slams Chancellor’s ‘austerity of choice’

March 13 2018

Scotland’s economic growth is predicted to be half that of Britain's as a whole following an upgrade of the UK forecast. Delivering the spring statement on Tuesday, Chancellor resisted calls from Labour to boost funding for public services, but hinted at turning on the spending taps at the Autumn Budget. The SNP said Philip Hammond is “intent on pursuing austerity by choice” by passing up on the chance to invest. The Office for Budget Responsibility increased growth projections for the UK to 1.5% this year. The official estimate by the Scottish Fiscal Commission is 0.7% for north of the border. Murdo Fraser, for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “The projected rate of growth for the whole UK is now double that of Scotland. “This is what happens when an SNP government has an anti-business agenda, and is more worried about hiking people’s tax than generating jobs and growth.” On Mr Hammond’s statement, Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary said: “The Chancellor had an opportunity to invest in public services and reverse these trends, but chose not to take it, which means that the Scottish Government will continue to see real terms cuts to its discretionary budget over the next two years.” John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, denounced the Chancellor’s decision to hold back any spending increases to the autumn as “astounding”. In the low-key statement to the Commons, Mr Hammond hinted at increasing spending in the autumn. “If, in the autumn, the public finances continue to reflect the improvements that today’s report hints at, then ... I would have capacity to enable further increases in public spending and investment in the years ahead while continuing to drive value for money to ensure that not a single penny of precious taxpayers’ money is wasted.” There were no tax and spending announcements in the stripped-down spring statement, which replaces the annual Budget in April. The main fiscal event is now in the autumn. GDP growth for 2018 was upgraded by the OBR by a tenth of a percentage point to 1.5%. But it remains virtually static in following years, at 1.3% in 2019 and 2020, 1.4% in 2021 and 1.5% in 2022, at a time of a strengthening global economy. The official forecaster also warned the Chancellor is likely to miss his target of returning the public finances to overall balance by the middle of the next decade. Debt is forecast to be 1% lower than expected at the time of last autumn’s Budget, peaking at 85.6% of GDP in 2017/18 before falling gradually to 77.9% in 2022/23. The OBR also calculated that Britain will continue to pay contributions into the EU budget until 2064 - 45 years after the official date of Brexit - with the total “withdrawal bill” amounting to £37.1 billion.

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

Motoring news

Rising repair costs and whiplash claims behind insurance rise

February 11 2017

Vehicle insurance premiums hit a record high last quarter, rising by more than five times the rate of inflation in 2016. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that tax increases, rising repair costs and increasing costs arising from whiplash injury claims were to blame. According to the ABI’s Motor Premium Tracker - which measures the price consumers actually pay for their cover, rather than quotes - the average price for private comprehensive insurance in Q4 2016 was £462. The highest figure recorded before this was in Q2 of 2012, when the average price was £443. The Q4 figure for 2016 was up 4.9% over Q3, equating to a £22 rise in the average premium. It was also found that the average premium for all of 2016 was 9.3% higher than the average premium for 2015. ABI’s assistant director and head of motor and liability, Rob Cummings, said: “These continue to be tough times for honest motorists. They are bearing the brunt of a cocktail of rising costs associated with increasing whiplash-style claims, rising repair bills and a higher rate of insurance premium tax. “While we support the Government’s further reforms to tackle lower-value whiplash costs, it must not give with one hand and take away with the other. The sudden decision to review the discount rate has the potential to turn a drama into a crisis, with a significant cut throwing fuel on the fire in terms of premiums. “Insurers are open to a proper dialogue on how to reform the system and urge the Lord Chancellor to engage with the industry about setting a rate that is fair for both claimants and customers.” Meanwhile, the RAC has released research that suggests not indicating when turning is our number one annoyance on the roads. Well over half (58%) of the survey’s respondents said failing to indicate was the top inconsiderate behaviour. It was narrowly ahead (56%) of those who thought middle lane hogging was the greatest driving sin.

Politics

Autumn Statement and Spending Review: Chancellor stuns Commons with tax credits U-turn

November 25 2015

George Osborne has performed a spectacular U-turn by shelving his controversial plan to cut tax credits for low-paid workers and families. Millions of people including more than 50,000 in Tayside and Fife faced losing about £1,500 a year under the Chancellor’s plans. Many expected him to mitigate the impact of the cuts in the wake of strong opposition in his Autumn Statement today. But he decided to bin his proposals altogether. Mr Osborne said told MPs: “I’ve had representations that these changes to tax credits should be phased in.AS IT HAPPENED: Autumn Statement and Spending Review“I’ve listened to the concerns. I hear and understand them. “And because I’ve been able to announce today an improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether.” https://www.youtube.com/embed/myZFL2jckmU?rel=0 The stepdown was dubbed “humiliating” by Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s deputy leader. Labour’s only Scotland MP Ian Murray said it demonstrates the “total chaos” in the Chancellor’s management of public finances. Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, who was among a large number of Tories opposing the Chancellor’s tax credit proposals, applauded him for listening. https://twitter.com/BBCNews/status/669542559899762688 The Chancellor, who also promised that the £12 billion of cuts to the welfare budget would still be delivered in full, was laying out the Government’s spending plans over the next five years. Other announcements included:Flights from Dundee to Amsterdam will go ahead after Government agrees to subsidise the service. The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that North Sea oil revenues will be down by 94% this year on last, which Mr Osborne said would have meant “catastrophic cuts to Scottish public services” under an independent Scotland. Scotland’s block grant will be more than £30bn in 2019, with capital spending in Scotland rising £1.9bn to 2021. Cuts in day-to-day spending to major departments: transport (37%), environment (15%), and energy (22%). Department of Work and Pensions budget to be cut by 14%. Defence budget to go up £34bn to £40bn by 2020 and the security services to get more funding. Changes to housing benefit will see new social tenants’ entitlement capped at the same level as private tenants and housing benefit and pension credit payments stopped for people who leave the country for more than one month.For full coverage of the statement, and what it means for you, see Thursday’s Courier or try our digital edition.

UK & World

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.

Alex Salmond

IDS delivered a Geoffrey Howe moment to Cameron and Osborne

March 21 2016

All political lives end in failure. If Enoch Powell’s dictum holds true then Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter spells double-barrelled trouble for David Cameron. The self-styled “quiet man” turned up the volume spectacularly on Friday night with an Exocet missile aimed at the midships of the Tory Government. And IDS scored a direct hit. When a Prime Minister is reduced to saying he is “puzzled” and “disappointed” by a resignation, you know he is in deep doodoo. When he then organises a junior minister to get torn into her former boss, you know the wounds are cutting deep. Then when he launches a private “four-letter-word tirade” at the recalcitrant minister for insisting on resignation, you know full-scale civil war is well and truly under way. However, the real Duncan Smith target was not the Prime Minister but the chancellor, George Osborne not the sheriff but the deputy. The background is clear enough. A few weeks ago, in that backroom coven where the Tory wizards cook up their pernicious policies, they decided that the pain of Osborne’s missed economic targets had to be targeted on someone. And so they decided to cast their dastardly spell in the direction of disabled people by making thousands of pounds of their benefit money under the new personal independent payments simply disappear. IDS “went along” with this unpleasant madness, just as he has swallowed everything else the Chancellor has forced down his throat over the last six years. His social security brief has taken by far the biggest hits from austerity. The policy was duly announced but then disability groups started to build up a head of outraged steam, mobilising the opposition and targeting some fretting Tory backbenchers. Then Duncan Smith turned up at the pre-Budget Cabinet last Wednesday morning to find out a big tax cut was to be handed out to the top 15% of taxpayers and juxtaposed with the disability payments cuts. This meant it would be extraordinarily difficult to maintain the argument that there was no alternative to further disability cuts in a Budget which included rich people getting a hefty tax cut. As the Budget went down badly, the Downing Street neighbours, Prime Minister and Chancellor, started to panic and rumours spread of a climbdown in the offing. Duncan Smith, the leading Eurosceptic in the Cabinet, was being lined up to take the rap and look like the pantomime villain into the bargain. Making the rich richer while disabled people are more disadvantaged is not a legacy any minister would want to have hanging around his neck. Quite incredibly and totally ineptly, Labour at Westminster lined up to back the top pay tax cut, taking the political pressure momentarily off the Chancellor. But Duncan Smith saw the political trap being set for him and had had more than enough. His departure means the Prime Minister has lost the high moral ground on welfare cuts to Duncan Smith, the high priest of the “bedroom tax”, and that is intensely damaging. The IDS resignation letter is a masterpiece flinging back in the face of the Prime Minister the Chancellor’s favourite incantation that “we are all in this together”. Some political resignations get quickly lost in the fog of politics and are soon forgotten. Others, like those of Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine of bygone Tory generations, have a big impact because they come at a time of a political changing of the guard. I’m betting that the departure of IDS is one of the latter. The poison pen in the letter from Duncan Smith is the issue of Europe. Out of the Cabinet, he is now free to campaign full square against the Prime Minister in the upcoming EU poll. Furthermore, Tory backbenchers, who up until now have been held in line by the seeming inevitability of Osborne’s succession into the top job, are looking at a political landscape where the Chancellor’s stock is falling faster than the Chinese stock market. He has gone from cock of the walk to “unfit for office” with no intervening period whatsoever. All of which spells big problems for the Prime Minister. The European referendum campaign is not going at all well. Even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has managed to draw level in the English polls, while Boris Johnson is swimming around the body politic like a giant shark waiting for the blood to be spilled in the water. If the Euro referendum is won, which is still the most likely outcome, Cameron will hand over a deeply divided and fractious party which will probably elect a Eurosceptic as his successor. If it is lost then he will be packing up his bags by the autumn. There are no glad, confident mornings left for Cameron and for the Tories the party is almost over.

Farming news

New homes plan may open doors for farmers

November 23 2017

The Chancellor’s plans to facilitate the building of 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s have been welcomed by specialist rural insurer NFU Mutual which said they could lead to opportunities for farmers. The company’s rural affairs spokesman, Tim Price said that in some locations farmers could sell land for building to raise funds for investment elsewhere on their land – or to diversify and provide a sustainable future for their farms. Mr Price added that there was huge relief that the Chancellor avoided increases in duty on petrol and diesel. “Those running small farms and rural businesses will heave a sigh of relief that they won‘t be faced with expensive accounting admin as the Chancellor has decided to keep the threshold for VAT registration at the current £85,000,” he said. “There was good news for self-employed farmers and all those working as employees that the Chancellor has stuck to the Tory’s promise to keep increasing personal tax allowances." He added that NFU Mutual had campaigned hard for the Chancellor to drop plans to increase the rate of Insurance Premium Tax (IPT). “We’re delighted that he decided not to further add to the costs of responsible businesses by leaving the tax at its current rate of 12%. NFU Mutual believes further increases in IPT would have placed an unfair burden on country people who have no option but to use cars to get around.” North of the border, NFU Scotland (NFUS) took a more negative view and chief executive Scott Walker said the union was disappointed with a budget which would “do little to excite and energise farmers, crofters, the agri-food sector or the rural economy”. “Today’s budget statement could have been a good opportunity for the UK Government to underline its commitment to UK and Scottish food producers by taking up recommendations made by NFUS and the other UK unions on measures that would help farm businesses to build resilience and deal with volatility at what is a pivotal moment of great uncertainty,” he said. “Positive announcements today were few and far between but cancellation of planned fuel duty rises for petrol and diesel vehicles is welcome. As is the extension of the rural fuel duty rebate scheme for the Scottish islands to 2023.” nnicolson@thecourier.co.uk

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