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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

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.


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.


‘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.

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.”

Perth & Kinross

Call for Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop to be questioned by Holyrood committee over T in the Park cash

September 7 2015

Opposition politicians have demanded Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop is dragged before a Holyrood committee to explain why she gave £150,000 of public money to T in the Park. In a joint statement, Scottish Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs called for the SNP minister to answer questions on the controversy. It comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ruled Ms Hyslop had acted appropriately in awarding the grant to the multi-million pound Perthshire festival. In a letter to Education Committee convener Stewart Maxwell, fellow members John Pentland, Liam McArthur, Mark Griffin and Liz Smith said: “In parliament last week, Fiona Hyslop declared that the award of £150,000 to the T in the park festival earlier this summer was given to ‘ensure its viability’. “Her comments have only served to deepen the growing confusion over why the award of state aid was granted to this event. The money was released after the event took place. T in the Park is run by a profitable company. “There has been no adequate explanation as to what the money was used for; consequently we believe the business case for the award drawn up by civil servants should be published.” Former Scottish Government advisor, Jennifer Dempsie, set up a meeting between festival bosses DF Concerts and ministers to discuss funding, although she did not attend. After a meeting with ministers on May 28, the culture secretary signed off an “ad hoc state aid” package for the festival on July 2. Ms Hyslop has insisted it was required to help ensure the festival took place, although it has been reported that Ms Hyslop did not take legal advice from Scottish Government lawyers before making the award. It is not known whether civil servants drew up a business case for the Minister. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “After looking into the matter carefully and taking advice from the Permanent Secretary, the First Minister has concluded that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture acted entirely appropriately in her handling of this issue. “The awarding of this funding was based solely on the merits of the case following an objective assessment by Scottish Government officials.”

UK & World

Brexit sabotage claims against civil service ‘completely crazy’

February 4 2018

Former cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell said attacks on the civil service for allegedly sabotaging Brexit are “completely crazy”, following claims officials are “fiddling the figures”.On Saturday, the leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Treasury officials of “fiddling the figures” to show that Britain would be worse off outside the EU, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.But in a staunch defence, Lord O’Donnell said honesty and objectivity ran through the core of civil servants “like a stick of rock”, and the forecasts would have been made in good faith. Responding to claims officials distorted their analysis, the former civil servant told Peston On Sunday: “I think that’s completely crazy. The truth is civil servants operate by the civil service code. The values are honesty, objectivity, integrity, impartiality.“Their job is to look at the evidence and present it as best they can, analyse the uncertainties … but that’s what they do, they’re objective and impartial. “And I think what you find is that tends to get accepted very nicely when it agrees with someone’s prior beliefs, but actually, when someone doesn’t like the answer, quite often they decide to shoot the messenger.”He was speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston, who said the civil service seemed to be facing “one of the most sustained attacks” on its integrity in living memory by serving ministers. Lord O’Donnell added: “We look at the evidence and we go where it is. “Of course if you are selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts testing your products.“And I think that’s what we’ve got, this backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go.“His remarks follow those of former Whitehall mandarin Lord Turnbull, who accused Brexiteers who blame civil servants for trying to sabotage Britain’s withdrawal from the EU of using tactics similar to those adopted by right-wing German nationalists in the 1930s.The former cabinet secretary and head of the civil service compared their claims to the myth of the “stab-in-the-back” perpetuated by the German right following their country’s defeat in the First World War.His comments are likely to inflame the bitter war of words between some Brexiteers and elements in Whitehall who deeply resent the attacks on their impartiality.


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."