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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...

Politics

MPs’ credit cards blocked by Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

March 4 2016

More than a dozen MPs have had their Commons credit cards blocked after running up expenses debts in one case of over £27,000. Five SNP politicians including Westminster leader Angus Robertson and his deputy, Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie - were among those subject to action by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). Four of the party's representatives have since repaid sums ranging from £33 to £3,446 in full. Natalie McGarry, who has been suspended from the SNP amid allegations relating to missing donations, owed £2,270 when her card was blocked on January 25, according to the figures released to the Press Association under Freedom of Information rules. She had £2,370 outstanding as of February 23. Her office blamed a "mix up" and said the situation had now been "rectified". Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley was £27,766 in the red when his card was stopped last November, and the deficit was £20,337 by last month. Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, former minister Liam Byrne and backbencher Simon Danczuk are on the list, having owed £953, £1,189 and £595 respectively. The amounts have all since been cleared. Labour ex-policy chief Jon Cruddas was subject to action before Christmas over £2,967 of expenses. Mr Cruddas said he exceeded the printing and postage budget for last year and had now agreed to settle the overspend by April 1. Tory backbencher John Stevenson had his card blocked in December over £608 of debt, but has since settled the amount. Fellow Conservative David Morris's card was suspended the same month, when he owed £12,240. He said Ipsa had initially failed to process the transactions properly and later discovered an overspend in office costs of nearly £5,000. "This overspend happened due to numerous admitted errors by Ipsa with their system, but under the scheme any budget overspends must be personally reimbursed by the member from their own pocket," he said. "This issue has now been resolved and the amount agreed as owed is being paid back by myself from my own pocket. "I must stress that these expenses claimed for were all permissible claims and were legitimate office costs incurred by carrying out my parliamentary duties to my constituents." Ms McGarry's office said her card was currently operational. "There was a mix up in the payment of the deposit for accommodation, but this has since been rectified, and Ipsa are satisfied with the repayment," a spokeswoman said. Ipsa issues MPs with credit cards to pay for a variety of items such as travel, accommodation and stationery. The politicians then have to prove the spending was allowable within a month, or they build up debts to the watchdog. The sums are recouped by suspending the cards and not paying out valid expenses claims, or in instalments from the MP's salary. The latest details date from the end of June, when a previous disclosure sparked a furious row between Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Ipsa about whether his card had been suspended over a £1,000 debt. Some of the new cases involved disputed claims, with energy select committee chairman Angus MacNeil building up a £950 tab after charging a series of hotel bills for more than £250 a night. He insisted the rooms were the cheapest available, but has now repaid the difference above Ipsa's £150-a-night maximum rate. Angela Crawley is the only SNP MP listed as having had her card suspended and still being in debt as of last month, owing £2,152. An SNP spokesman said: "By its very nature the operation of the expenses system means that Ipsa often owes outstanding amounts to MPs and MPs often owe outstanding amounts to Ipsa. Outstanding amounts are then repaid." The watchdog was challenged about the credit card rules by SNP MP Pete Wishart at a hearing of the Speaker's Committee that oversees it this week. Mr Wishart complained that having to provide evidence for spending within a month could be "burdensome" and highlighted that new SNP MPs had seen their cards suspended. "Ipsa had made such a fantastic impression on our new groups of MPs when they were newly elected," he said. "There was goodwill towards Ipsa. Totally gone after that." But the watchdog's chief executive Marcial Boo responded: "I am obviously very sorry that it has cost a lot of goodwill. But it is part of the role that we have to make sure that payments that we make are supported by evidence. "As soon as MPs provide us with that evidence the card is turned back on again." He added: "We cannot allow ourselves to be in a position where an MP is making thousands of pounds of payments on a card and failing to give us evidence to support that payment, without taking any action."

Politics

Labour contacts watchdog over affair scandal SNP MPs’ expenses

May 19 2016

A second watchdog has been urged to investigate the conduct of two SNP MPs in relation to their accommodation expenses amid allegations of affairs. Labour MP Graham Jones has made a complaint about Angus MacNeil and Stewart Hosie to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw has also written to parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson claiming Mr MacNeil and Mr Hosie, the SNP's deputy leader and Dundee East MP, may have "fallen short" of the MPs' rules of conduct. The SNP has said any suggestion of financial impropriety in relation to the MPs' expenses is "totally wrong". The complaints relate to reports both men had affairs with Westminster journalist Serena Cowdy. The Daily Mail has alleged Ms Cowdy was a frequent guest of Mr MacNeil, 45, at the Park Plaza in Waterloo - a hotel often used by the Western Isles MP. Mr MacNeil chooses to stay in hotels while working in Westminster and rents out the flat he owns in the capital. He claims the cost of the hotels back in parliamentary expenses. Mr Hosie, 53, who is also reported to have had a relationship with Ms Cowdy, claims expenses on a flat in London. Mr Jones is understood to have written to Ipsa, the body created to independently oversee MPs' expenses, asking it to look into the claims "to ensure that the expenses system has not been compromised". A Labour spokesman said: "There are serious allegations here about a potential misuse of taxpayer funds by senior SNP MPs. It is right that these allegations are fully investigated." The office of the parliamentary standards commissioner said Mr Carlaw's correspondence had not yet been received while Ipsa confirmed it had received an email in relation to the two MPs which would be considered. Mr MacNeil announced his separation from his wife last year while Mr Hosie and wife Shona Robison, Scotland's Health Secretary, announced on Sunday they were separating. In a statement, Mr MacNeil said: "My accommodation in London is claimed under normal expenses, as is the case for all MPs, and the cost of this is compliant with the rules of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). "I don't like to comment on my personal life or related tabloid stories, but my marriage sadly ended for very different reasons to what has been suggested in lurid newspaper stories this week." First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC she had "seen no evidence of any breach of parliamentary expenses rules". She said: "Ultimately, of course, that's a matter for the parliamentary authorities to determine. Beyond that, these are matters that are private and personal matters." An SNP spokeswoman said: "The expenses were approved by the Commonsauthorities in line with the rules on MP's London accommodation and none of theminvolved any additional cost to the public purse beyond that."

Angus & The Mearns

Campaigners say MPs paying rent to their own parties is “a back-door subsidy”

November 15 2013

MPs across Tayside and Fife have claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to rent offices from their own political party, it has been revealed. Information published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) disclosed details of landlords for politicians’ office space for the first time. All three local SNP MPs Mike Weir in Angus, Stewart Hosie in Dundee East and Perth and North Perthshire’s Pete Wishart lease from their local party branch, while Sir Menzies Campbell has the same arrangement with the North East and Central Fife Liberal Democrats. Local Labour MPs all rented from private businesses or people, although some of their colleagues in Westminster went through the party. It also emerged MPs have claimed more than £3.6 million to rent offices from political parties since the general election. The average cost of leases from political parties was also slightly higher, at £14,886 as opposed to £14,156 from elsewhere. If the average cost of leases from political parties had been the same as those from other landlords, the bill for the taxpayer would have been £178,120 lower since the general election. Ipsa said the difference between the cost of the leases was one of the things it would be looking at in a review. Chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: “Our rules allow MPs to rent from a political party but we require an extra assurance from MPs if they do so: an independent valuation that the lease represents the market rate. We are confident that this measure means taxpayers have received value for money from these leases.” Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The practice of MPs renting space from those who also donate money to the MP or their party should also set alarm bells ringing. “It’s effectively a back-door subsidy to political parties that is exploiting an allowance meant to assist MPs in their work serving their constituents, not boost the coffers of their re-election campaign.” Sir Menzies, who claimed the least of any local MP and below the Westminster average, claimed he paid less rent as a result of having his party as a landlord, adding his rent was calculated by an independent surveyor and approved by Ipsa. He said: “If I had to provide a separate office from the one that I have with the local Lib Dems I estimate that the cost would be at least twice, or possible three times as much.” An SNP spokesman said: “Evidence from independent assessments confirm that properties rented by SNP MPs are of reasonable commercial costs, in line with Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority rules.”

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

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.

Politics

MSPs defend claiming back money for travelling to work

August 31 2015

MSPs have racked up thousands of pounds’ worth of expenses claims getting from their homes to their local constituency offices, it has emerged. Although MPs at Westminster are not allowed to submit for such “commuting costs”, Holyrood representatives are able to under the existing system. Angus South’s Graeme Dey claimed £252 for his commute to top the local list although he was a way off justice secretary Michael Matheson, who clawed back £2,079 for 30-mile journeys between his home and Falkirk office. Finance secretary and Perth and North Perthshire MSP John Swinney made a series of claims, while SNP colleague and North East Fife representative Rod Campbell was reimbursed for a number of his 43-mile journeys. Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSPs Claire Baker, Jayne Baxter and Richard Simpson all got cash for relatively short hops, as did Conservative regional representatives Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith, while North East Scotland Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes asked for cash for her two-mile trips. Guidance from Westminster’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority states: “We do not pay for commuting costs. This mirrors the circumstances of most citizens.” Taxpayer Scotland director Eben Wilson said: “We want our representatives to be working for our interests in parliament, not larging it grandly and lining their pockets. Those claiming should return the money.” Ms Baker said: “My understanding is it is within parliamentary rules. Often when I am travelling to the local office it is not just the local office I am going to, I am going on to other constituency matters and it is a round-trip claim.” Dr Simpson said: “There are more serious stories than the scale of MSPs’ expenses. Any claim from home to office is treated as a taxable expense.” Ms Smith said: “The rules at parliament are very clear. You claim for anything that is constituency business, it would be another thing if it were a party matter. I see constituents in my constituency office and I’m perfectly happy with that” An SNP spokesman said: “MSPs work within strict rules set out by parliament and are able to claim reimbursement of travel costs undertaken in support of their parliamentary duties on behalf of constituents.” Attempts were made to contact Mr Dey, Mr Swinney, Mr Campbell, Ms Baxter, Mr Fraser and Ms McInnes directly but they were either unavailable or did not respond. Two MSPs SNP veteran Kenny MacAskill and Labour backbencher Hanzala Malik claimed 45p each way for journeys of just one mile. In total, 25 SNP, 10 Labour, eight Conservative, two Liberal Democrat and one independent MSP claimed expenses for commuting costs. The total cost is thought to be in excess of £15,000. A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament said: “An independent review of MSPs expenses’ scheme recognised this is a legitimate cost to reimburse, and that members are taxed accordingly in line with HMRC’s rules.”

Politics

MP in fine mess over accounts

January 18 2016

An SNP MP faces a fine for failing to publish official accounts for a company he is being investigated by parliamentary authorities in connection with. Phil Boswell has missed a deadline for filing financial information for Boswell and Johnstone Ltd. He is the sole director of the company. Companies House has confirmed he will automatically be issued with a financial penalty. Westminster’s Standards Commissioner is also investigating an alleged failure to disclose his directorship. Scottish Labour business manager James Kelly said: “Between this pattern of behaviour and his shameless hypocrisy on tax avoidance, he is becoming an embarrassment for SNP bosses.” It emerged last month that Mr Boswell was involved in a tax avoidance scheme during his previous career, even though he campaigned against the practice after being elected to the House of Commons. An SNP spokesman said: “The registration of Boswell and Johnston is subject to investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Phil Boswell is fully complying with the Commissioner’s investigation.”

UK & World

Separatist set to be voted in as new chief of Catalonia region

May 14 2018

Catalonia’s lawmakers are meeting to end more than six months of leadership vacuum by voting in a fervent separatist as the new chief of the restive region, setting the scene for a new confrontation with Spain.Quim Torra, the former leader of a pro-independence civil society group, has vowed to continue working toward an independent Catalan republic.He is regarded as a close ally of his predecessor in Catalonia’s top job, ousted president Carles Puigdemont, who is fighting extradition to Spain from Germany.Mr Torra failed to achieve an absolute majority in a first parliamentary vote on Saturday but he is expected to be elected on Monday by simple majority after an anti-capitalist separatist party announced it would abstain.Central authorities have been ruling Catalonia directly from Madrid since an attempt to declare unilateral independence from Spain in late October.

Dundee

MP Jim McGovern’s fare appeal cost £740 compared to Ipsa’s £27,000

April 16 2013

Legal action to appeal a Dundee MP’s rejected expenses claim cost £740 just 3% of what Westminster’s regulatory body charged the taxpayer. Jim McGovern’s refusal to pay for a £24 rail fare from Dundee to Glasgow, where he was attending a Labour Party event, resulted in the first tribunal of its type since reforms in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said the cost of defending the appeal brought about by the Dundee West representative was £27,000, which comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. However, The Courier has learned costs accrued by the GMB, which represented Mr McGovern in the hearing, amounted to just £740. A union source claimed Ipsa had “two senior counsel, one of which was a silk (QC), two senior solicitors and a massive array of hangers on” at the tribunal. The source added: “This genuinely was a serious, serious waste of taxpayers’ money.” That claim was rejected by an Ipsa spokesman, who said it was represented by a barrister and a lawyer who both received “some administrative support”. Maria Ludkin, GMB national officer for legal and corporate affairs, said Mr McGovern would have won his appeal if new rules about staggered journeys had been taken into account another claim rejected by Ipsa last night. The Labour politician’s claim for a £23.90 train ticket from Dundee to Glasgow was rejected but his £249.45 business class flight on to Heathrow to fulfil his parliamentary role was allowed after a review by Ipsa’s compliance officer. Ms Ludkin said: “Jim McGovern MP was refused a refund of a legitimate travel expense because Ipsa made an entirely unreasonable decision that he should have travelled back north to his constituency before restarting en route to London for parliamentary duties. “We agreed with our member that this decision seemed absurd and supported his appeal against the decision. “Jim McGovern MP’s case was acknowledged by the tribunal as ‘respectable and arguable’. The scheme rules for MPs’ expenses were changed the day before the hearing. “Ipsa admitted that if Mr McGovern’s claim had been made under these new rules, then the claim would have been payable. “GMB incurred limited costs in supporting their member, but have no control over the level of legal costs incurred by Ipsa. “We are shocked by the reports that Ipsa’s costs were in the region of £27,000, when the case involved just a two-hour hearing, and when all the limited facts were agreed, and no witnesses were called. If true, this seems to be a totally disproportionate waste of taxpayers’ money.” An Ipsa spokesman said the decision to defend itself against Mr McGovern in the tribunal was taken to ensure the new rules were taken seriously and MPs did not abuse the system. He said: “We were taken to tribunal by Mr McGovern. It was pretty clear there was going to be a legal bill because of that. One way to have avoided legal costs would have been to avoid going to tribunal. “We were keen to avoid going but if we turn down a claim and every time it goes to appeal we just say ‘well then’ there is no point in having these new rules. “Either you choose to just back down or you say: We have these rules and it is important that we stick to them. Ultimately, the tribunal found we had applied the rules appropriately.” He added: “The rule change applied to the Glasgow to London trip, not the Dundee to Glasgow journey. Months ago we wouldn’t have paid it (the rail fare) and we wouldn’t pay it now.”

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