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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...

Angus & The Mearns

Angus Council opts out of lending struggling first-time buyers a hand

September 19 2011

A new local authority mortgage scheme that assists first-time buyers will not be available in Angus. Councillors have decided not to implement the scheme that is intended to benefit people who have fallen victim to the financial crisis, giving them a help to home ownership. The scheme provides help to first-time buyers who can afford the regular mortgage payments on a home but are not able to provide the initial deposit necessary to purchase a house. If potential buyers meet certain criteria, a participating local authority then agrees to provide a guarantee for up to 20% of the purchase price of the property. The deal allows the potential buyer to get a 95% mortgage on similar terms to a 75% mortgage because the interest rate charged is more favourable than would normally be available to borrowers with small deposits. Angus Council has decided not to back the scheme and to give priority to other housing commitments and initiatives meantime. But the door has been left open to reconsider the scheme at a future date. The scheme was established not only to help would-be home owners suffering as a result of the economic crisis but also to assist the construction industry during the downturn. Colin McMahon, Angus Council's director of corporate services said people applying for help under the scheme, which has financial implications for Angus Council, did not necessarily have to live in the county. Assistance to such incomers would not help reduce the authority's own housing waiting list. Mr McMahon said: "Applications can come from anywhere in the UK, meaning first time buyers outwith the Angus area can apply for the scheme for example a resident in Dundee looking to move to Angus, and therefore not helping the council's housing waiting list." Angus struggles to meet the demand for affordable housing and the council is involved in a number of schemes to try and meet the need. The Local Authority Mortgage Scheme (LAMS) is developed by Treasury management advisors in conjunction with a number of Scottish and English local authorities to assist first-time house buyers. Continued... Mr McMahon said: "It is seen as a way to use the extensive powers available to local authorities under housing acts to help people on to the home-ownership ladder that have fallen victim to the financial crisis trigger of 2008 and consequent constrained mortgage lending. "It is believed such a scheme would alleviate some demand pressure on social housing, assist in the recovery of the wider housing market and indirectly assist in the recovery of the construction sector of the economy." He said the council should not support the scheme at this time. "The key question is whether this particular scheme would be a better fit with our housing policy objectives than the other initiatives and investments being pursued that is, does the council wish to invest the time, money and energy required to implement an Angus version of LAMS or should it continue to pursue existing strategies. "The scheme could help reduce the demand on housing waiting lists and assist in the wider recovery of the housing market. "However the number of housing waiting list applicants within Angus is relatively high in comparison to the housing stock available and . . . the impact of the scheme on reducing waiting lists would be small. "If all mortgages approved were for properties with a value of around £125,000, with a council guarantee of £1 million this would only be sufficient to support around 40 mortgages." Council officers would monitor the progress of the scheme within other councils. He said: "Reconsideration of the council's participation in the scheme would come at an appropriate future point, probably once some of the pilot projects are well under way and the operation of the scheme in practice has been assessed." Photo used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Flickr user wwworks.

Angus & The Mearns

Tayside property chief says Scottish Help to Buy scheme is too restricted

October 21 2013

A Tayside property expert has criticised the Scottish version of the Help to Buy scheme for first-time buyers as not going far enough. The Scottish scheme only applies to first-time buyers buying new-build properties, whereas England’s scheme does not have this restriction. The Scottish Government is taking up to 20% equity in homes bought by successful applicants, making it easier for people with deposits as low as 5% to obtain mortgages. Lindsay Darroch, partner and head of property at Blackadders, has called on the Scottish Government to open up the scheme further. He said: “While I welcome all assistance to the housing market, I think the Scottish Government’s version of the Help to Buy scheme hasn’t gone far enough. It only helps first-time buyers purchasing new-build properties. “I wish that they had done more analysis in terms of the numbers of first-time buyers in Scotland that actually buy a new-build property in my experience, very few, if any. “I hope that they revisit their scheme and open it up to all properties and all buyers.” Mr Darroch has also responded to criticism that lenders have set the interest rates of Help to Buy mortgages too high. He said the scheme was not designed to introduce cheap mortgages but to increase the availability of mortgages. “I have read a number of articles on the Government’s Help to Buy scheme with the commentators advising that lenders are not reducing their rates as part of the scheme,” he added. “I think the articles are misguided as the point of the Help to Buy scheme is not to reduce the cost of borrowing but is in fact to make borrowing at higher loan to value more readily available. “I think lenders are being very sensible in not making the cost of this too cheap but I hope that it is on the proviso that when interest rates start rising, in 2015 to 2017, mortgage payments in the Help to Buy scheme do not rise as quickly.” Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the first lenders to offer products under the scheme, said it had taken 10,000 calls on mortgages since last week’s launch double the number it would usually expect to take. The Help to Buy scheme has attracted criticism that a return to 95% mortgages could fuel another property bubble.

Business news

Big rise in first-time buyers

January 4 2014

The number of first-time buyers grew by around one-fifth in 2013, marking the strongest annual increase in more than a decade. There were around 265,000 first-time buyers in the UK in 2013, showing the highest annual total since 2007 and lifting by 22% from an estimated 218,000 in 2012, according to Halifax, which used a combination of Council of Mortgage Lenders’ figures and its own to make its findings. Halifax said the 22% increase is the strongest annual rise seen since 2001. The rise also meant that first-time buyers increased their share of all house purchases made with a mortgage, now accounting for 44%, up from 40% in 2012. Its figures also showed how ultra-low interest rates have helped to improve mortgage affordability in recent years. The proportion of disposable earnings devoted to mortgage payments by a first-time buyer stood at 30% in the last three months of 2013, compared with a peak of 50% in the summer of 2007. Halifax also found that 32% of local authority districts in the UK have house prices that are affordable to a first-time buyer on average earnings. House prices are deemed to be affordable if they cost up to four times earnings. But this is a significant improvement compared with the peak of the market in 2007, when just 5% of districts were found to be affordable. In Scotland, 46% of local authority districts were found to be affordable and in Wales, 75% of districts were affordable. A string of Government schemes have given those aspiring to get on the property ladder a helping hand over the last year. In October the Government launched a new phase of its Help to Buy scheme, which offers state-backed mortgages to people with deposits of just 5%. But critics of the scheme have argued that a lack of supply of homes for sale amid rising demand from buyers has put an upward pressure on house prices. Fears have also been raised about what will happen to borrowers when interest rates start to rise again and their mortgage payments go up. Martin Ellis, a housing economist at Halifax, said: “Low interest rates, improvements in consumer confidence and Government schemes, such as Help to Buy, all appear to have contributed to the rise in the number of first-time buyers.”


Advertising feature: Helping you make the right financial choice

August 15 2011

You've reached the end of your mortgage deal, but is it time to ride the interest rate rollercoaster, or make the budget choice and remortgage to a fixed rate? Although in today's turbulent times your answer may change almost every week, there are important considerations to bear in mind, whatever's happening in the financial world. Fixed rates may not be the cheapest option With many financial analysts arguing that interest rates are expected to rise in coming months, a flurry of fixed-rate deals have hit the shelves. Unlike, say, a variable rate mortgage, a fixed-rate mortgage can offer more protection against future rate rises because your monthly mortgage repayments will be set for a particular period of time no matter what happens to the interest rates. So whether times are turbulent or not, taking this route can help you to budget, as you know how much you need to pay each month. However, it might not be the cheapest option. It's important to look around carefully and find the best deal for swapping your mortgage deal. There will be additional fees, so compare rates before deciding. You will need to find one that is worth the switch, taking the any fees into account.Be wary about arrangement feesFactoring in an arrangement fee is important - it's not all about the rate. It can be tempting to add the fee to your mortgage rather than paying it upfront. Be careful, however, as this doesn't always make financial sense - remember you'll be paying interest on this amount too. Use a mortgage repayment calculator to help you work out the sums, and be very clear that you can afford the repayments. In April 2011, comparison site uSwitch calculated that adding the average fee of £1044 to a mortgage with an APR of 4.29% over 25 years would mean repaying a total of £1,701, which is £657 more than the original fee. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage. This article has been written for information and interest purposes only. The information contained within this article is the opinion of the author only, and should not be construed as advice or used to make financial decisions. Expert financial advice should always be sought and any links contained within this article are included for information purposes only. Barclays is a major global financial services provider engaged in retail banking (basic bank accounts and regular savings accounts), credit cards, corporate banking, investment banking, wealth management and investment management services, with an extensive international presence in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. With over 300 years of history and expertise in banking, Barclays operates in over 50 countries and employs over 140,000 people. Barclays moves, invests and protects money and provides, student bank accounts, investment ISA options, home insurance, life insurance, a mortgage calculator, guides on how to buy shares and other services for over 49 million customers and clients worldwide. For further information about Barclays, please visit our website www.barclays.co.uk.

Perth & Kinross

Perth property boom sees homes sold in seven days

April 8 2015

The property market in Perth has become one of the hottest in Scotland, with homes going under offer in an average of just seven days. The country’s biggest solicitor-estate agent Aberdein Considine said that the pace in which properties are changing hands is almost unheard of and similar to levels in Aberdeen during peak periods for the oil and gas industry. The firm’s announcement comes as Perthshire Solicitors Property Centre (PSPC) also revealed an upturn in the local housing market. Its first quarter sales totalled nearly £30 million with 61 properties being exchanged in March, compared to just 48 the year before. James McKay, who heads up Aberdein Considine’s Perth branch on High Street, said the spring market in the city had been fuelled by low mortgage rates. The change from Stamp Duty to a new Scottish system the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax has eased the tax burden on those buying homes below £300,000, making it a true “buyer’s market”. Mr McKay said the average price of a detached home is now just less than £260,000 in Perth and Kinross. “As a national firm, we get a good feel for the market across Scotland,” he said. “What we are seeing in Perth at the moment is the type of market we usually only see in Aberdeen. “In the north-east it has become usual for homes to go in six to 10 days. However, it usually takes a bit longer in Perth. “Our average on the market-to-under offer timescale in Perth was just six-and-a-half days in March, which is remarkable.” He added: “Areas including Oakbank, Viewlands, Craigie, Kinnoull and Scone are particularly popular at the moment. “Buyers appear to be keen to buy in these areas due to schools, bus routes and access to services. The middle market between £100,000 and £250,000 is particularly active.” Mr McKay added that low mortgage rates appeared to be the driving factor. “There is every sign the Perth market will continue to remain active in these areas,” he said. PSPC manager Anne Begg said: “We are delighted to see, in black and white, the promising sales statistics from the first quarter of the year.” She said that although March had seen a boost, overall sales for the first part of 2015 were slightly down. “The good news is that the average price tag being achieved is ahead of this time last year. Values really are holding their own, which is promising for those considering selling up this spring.” Ms Begg said that people were queuing for the firm’s Help to Buy open morning. “With winter in the past, we’re seeing lots of evidence that countless people are ready to make a move,” she added.

Farming news

SNP handling of new beef scheme attacked

November 10 2016

The Scottish Government's own efficiency has been called into question over the handling of the new £45million Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES). An estimated 180,000 beef cows from 2000 Scottish farmers have been enrolled in the new five-year  scheme which aims to improve the efficiency and quality of the beef herd and help producers increase the genetic value of their stock. But months after signing up for the scheme, farmers are still waiting to be supplied with special tags to meet the rules which call for 'tissue tagging' of 20% of cattle. And now NFU Scotland's livestock chairman Charlie Adam says farmers' confidence in the scheme is being affected and has called for the rules to be adjusted. The union has also urged the Scottish Government to update all scheme applicants on progress with BES and let them know when the necessary tags will arrive. “If tag delays cannot be resolved in the immediate future, then the Scottish Government should recognise the problem and make the tissue tagging element voluntary for 2016. This will allow those who can take samples from the animals that they still own to do so,"  said Mr Adam. “Applicants to this important scheme, worth £45 million to the industry, have every right to know now, and in detail, what they are expected to do to fulfil their BES obligations and Scottish Government must get back on the front foot in delivering the scheme.” Mr Adam added that it was frustrating for the farmers who have already housed and handled their cattle for the winter as many of those animals were by now located in overwintering accommodation that can be some distance from home farms. Shadow Rural Economy secretary, Peter Chapman MSP claimed it was impossible for farmers to sell store cattle in the autumn sales until they were told which animals need tagged and were sent  the tags to do the job. He added: "This will create huge cash flow and logistic problems for farmers who normally sell calves at this time – this is the SNP letting farmers down yet again.” A Scottish Government spokesman said work was under way to rectify the problem and a timetable was expected by the end of the week. He added: "It is not necessary for farmers to hold off from selling their animals. "We will ensure that the sampling regime accommodates those farmers who have sold their calves and there will be no penalties for those whoo have. It may mean that some farmers will have a higher rate of sampling next year." nnicolson@thecourier.co.uk      

Readers' letters

July 4: Howff gravestone appeal fell on deaf ears

July 4 2011

Today's letters to The Courier. Howff gravestone appeal fell on deaf earsSir,-One could almost feel the pride throughout J.J. Marshall's column about Morgan Academy, Dundee. What a pity he, and all the other former pupils, are not prepared to do something about the Morgan gravestone in the Howff. Some nine years ago The Nine Trades found it in a disgraceful state. They spent a great deal of money having new pillars cut and the stone repaired and replaced. The stone, however, needs the inscription re-cut. We obtained a quote of some £1300 for the work and committed the sum of £300 to start things off. Despite repeated pleas, often in your paper, for money to make up the balance, we have only had one response, a cheque from one grateful past pupil for £40. So much for the great pride Morgan pupils have in their old school. Work that out at a cost per proud pupil and it is less than a loaf of bread. Some pride. Innes A. Duffus.Dundee.Law Society stayed quietSir,-It must be really demoralising for law students, especially graduates trying to complete their articles and many still seeking employment, to see their profession being further denigrated. I would have thought that, even with its blemishes, the Scottish Law Society would be more than capable of dealing with any criminal case or human rights issue without any outside intervention. Whether politics were involved or not, I remember in 2009 the lord chancellor was one of the main instigators of the Supreme Court. At that time only three High Court judges from Scotland were appointed. With an issue proving so important to our nation, was there even a murmur at any level from the Scottish Law Society? In a constantly changing world perhaps now is the time for a re-appraisal of the Law Society and its role. James M. Fraser.39 High Street,Leven.Pension grumbles overstatedSir,-This morning's editorial (June 29) was spot on when it claimed the public-sector pension issue should have been addressed by the Labour government in 2005 when they memorably funked it. Increased longevity makes impossible continuance of an unreformed system. A 3% increase in contributions and a retirement age of 66 is not the end of the world. The professions tend to overestimate the income they will need in retirement and my kirk pension of £12,000 after 35 years, plus my state pension, has proved fine. My medical brothers received over four times that amount and retirement at 60 but I found the closing years before retirement at just past 65 the most rewarding of my entire career. As long as the poorer-paid public sector workers are protected, I think the better-off professionals with school fees and mortgages long past should keep a grip on reality. (Dr) John Cameron.10 Howard Place,St Andrews. Not the saviours they pretendSir,-The SNP's Alex Orr (June 27) is right to highlight Scotland's marginally better public spending deficit as compared to the UK generally, but at least the Westminster government has acknowledged the need to get it under control. However, the SNP wants to see a Scotland with fiscal policies like slashed corporation tax, significantly reduced fuel duty and tax breaks for favoured sectors such as computer games. The SNP is clearly reluctant to raise income tax or council taxes, or to impose a windfall tax on oil companies. But it makes lavish spending commitments. It surely ill behoves the Nationalists to favourably compare Scotland's deficit to that of the UK. No wonder the SNP is so keen for Scotland to have borrowing powers. Mr Orr highlights the role of oil revenues in an independent Scotland. But this merely underlines yet another future drain on Scotland's public purse, namely the subsidy-hungry renewables industry. There would also be a stealth tax in the form of rocketing energy bills. The SNP's attempts to depict themselves as the planet's environmental saviours, while at the same time portraying oil as the key to Scotland's future, shows that the party wants to have its renewables cake and eat it. Stuart Winton.Hilltown,Dundee. Fairtrade status undermined Sir,-I note with interest your article (June 28) about Scotland being on course to become the world's second Fair Trade nation. Having been on the original working group which helped set up the Scottish Fair Trade Forum back in 2006, I think it would be wonderful to see this goal being achieved. Dundee became a Fairtrade City in March 2004, the first in Scotland, but this status needs to be renewed. That is currently under threat because, unlike other local authorities, Dundee City Council does not automatically provide Fairtrade catering for meetings. It would be a great shame if Scotland's Fair Trade nation accolade were denied because its first Fairtrade city lost its status. Sally Romilly.4 Westwood Terrace,Newport-on-Tay. Leuchars still at riskSir,-The fact that the MoD has spent millions on RAF Leuchars is no guarantee of saviour. Remember that a new hangar complex was built for rescue helicopters of 22 Squadron, only for the RAF to disband the flight. Stephen Pickering.19 Abbey Court,St Andrews.

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


Empty properties could be taxed up to £5,000

January 23 2013

Some homeowners could face an annual council tax bill of up to £5,000 if they leave their property empty for more than a year, MSPs heard today. Holyrood's Local Government Committee has approved legislation that would allow councils to double the council tax on empty properties and charge homeowners £500 if they try to hide their empty home from the council. Housing minister Margaret Burgess is also considering making mortgage lenders liable for council tax on repossessed properties, rather than the debtor that has defaulted on their loan. The SNP administration was accused of contradicting its manifesto pledge to freeze the council tax by Conservative local government spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell, who tried to have the legislation annulled. MSPs voted along party lines to give local authorities the power to double council tax on empty homes, with four SNP MSPs outvoting Ms Mitchell and two Labour MSPs. One SNP MSP raised concerns about the legislation's impact on families whose homes are left empty in unforeseen circumstances. Stuart McMillan told of a family whose renovation project had been delayed due to ill-health. Ms Burgess confirmed that this property would be treated as an "unoccupied dwelling" under the new law, and may be liable for a surcharge. Councils will be given the discretion to decide whether to levy the surcharge and how much homeowners should pay up to a maximum of 100%, she said. Council tax varies between local authorities, from £682 a year for the cheapest properties in the Western Isles to £2,460 for the most expensive properties in Aberdeen. An empty Band H property in Aberdeen could be liable for a council tax bill of £4,920 if the council levies the full surcharge and finds no cause for exemption. SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson, a former infrastructure minister, described the surcharge as "a very important piece of legislation" which will incentivise owners to bring empty homes into use. He told of his difficulties in resurrecting a property in his constituency that had been left empty for more than seven years by a company based in Panama. Committee vice convener John Wilson, an SNP MSP, questioned why repossessed homes will be granted an exemption from the new law, alongside those whose residents have been jailed or taken into long-term residential or hospital care. Ms Burgess said: "When a lender repossesses, until the property is sold or auctioned the original owner of the property is still liable for the council tax. "It doesn't transfer the minute the property is repossessed, and if there is any equity in that property any liability will be paid from it. "If you're suggesting the lender should perhaps pay the council tax, I don't know if we can do that but it is certainly something that we might look at." Mr Wilson said: "It would have been useful if we could have tidied up that situation in this legislation to try and release this burden of further debt to those who have had their homes repossessed. "While we can't change the legislation in front of us today, I would like to think the minister would take that point on board." The Council Tax (Variation for Unoccupied Dwellings) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 will now be presented to the full Scottish Parliament for approval.