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...
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.”
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.
Back in 1999, the night before it was announced, John Swinney was bounced into accepting the “Penny For Scotland” policy. He’d been against it all along and it was assumed no party would use the Tartan Tax that had been created for the new parliament in Edinburgh. Alex Salmond changed that. Faced with a popular UK government lead by Tony Blair and the thrill of Scotland’s first-ever devolved elections, the SNP leader felt his party needed a hook for voters. So he promised to raise tax if elected. This volte face met resistance Swinney didn’t like being the front man for a U-turn but caved in. It was rushed the day it was announced there was still no clear plan how the money would be spent. I think it only acquired the moniker “Penny for Scotland” later. Certainly, the idea that it would buy hospital beds and MRI scans came days afterwards. Opinion is divided among those in the room as to whether 1999 was a successful campaign for the SNP. The tax policy didn’t shift the party’s standing in opinion polls. The final tally of 35 MSPs seemed low but is more than Labour are expected to win in 2016. It tarred the party with the idea of being tax-and-spenders, which some feel damaged its prospects for next few years. Lord knows the emotional price paid by Swinney, twisted every which way by the political winds. Wrong side? Once decided upon, the party faithful were issued briefing sheets and sent off to sell the idea just as this year they have been issued bullet points to attack Labour’s plan to raise income tax by a penny. The trouble is, it feels this time that the party faithful are fighting on the wrong side. Politics requires difference. In Scottish politics this has been absent for a long time. The constitution aside, our main parties are interchangeable on most issues. By arguing for a hike of 1p on the income tax rates, Labour has created meaningful difference, as Alex Salmond hoped to in 1999. The matter is unlikely to change the election result if the pollsters are right, the SNP majority is too big for a reverse. Short of Nicola Sturgeon declaring undying love for Nigel Farage or Angus Robertson declaring war on Pimlico, there’s little that can dent their lead. The Labour party will still lose, then but go into the next parliament buoyed by a good policy rammy which plays to its natural instincts. Further, they have defined the election campaign in their favour they appear the good guys. It’s also good for the Tories should they suggest a tax cut then, for the first time in decades, Scottish voters will have a real choice when it comes to who is best to look after public services. The opposition parties have little to lose and a lot to gain in credibility terms. The risk lies with the governing party. If you spend your life shouting “fire, fire”, at some point you have to use the extinguisher. If not, then you just look like an arsonist. That’s the SNP’s problem they have built popularity on the idea that flaming cuts are licking across the border and only they can fight the inferno but they refuse to hit the sprinklers, in the form of a tax rise. The SNP’s problem is that they voted for this mechanism it was part of the 2012 Scotland Act approved unanimously by Holyrood and poor old John Swinney is on record as saying the tax is progressive. Nobody could say it is an elegant tax affecting the three bands of income tax uniformly does seem perverse but equally, it’s not the basket case it is now presented as. It is inarguable that more you earn, the more tax you will pay. The SNP’s objection is political (they think low tax and competence wins every time and that’s what counts) but have constructed a defence around how the tax will affect the lowest paid. Rules of spin It fails the first rule of spin, that the argument must be simple. Instead, it relies on an interpretation of percentage points, which is dull and tricksy. They have quite possibly leapt too soon. With Labour and the Liberal Democrats both arguing for use of the tax and the Greens no doubt not far behind, the SNP could simply have decided upon the same policy. Then the opposition’s difference is gone while public services are actively defended. Signing up to a penny rise in tax may scare those Tories disguised in the SNP’s Business for Scotland wing back to the Conservatives but the rest of Scotland would have been left with the same choice they had before tax was mentioned who looks most competent. By arguing against the new “Penny for Scotland” tax, the SNP risk appearing as if they are arguing against the nation not a good place for a nationalist party to be. Then again, could John Swinney’s heart cope with yet another twist?
Parents face a growing struggle as the cost of bringing up a child has risen to £148,000, research has found. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has gone up by 4% over the last year. But the value of benefits for families and children only rose by 1% and child benefit did not rise at all, tightening the squeeze on living standards. At the same time minimum wages rose 1.8% and average earnings by 1.5%, making it harder for parents to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive, said: “This research paints a stark picture of families being squeezed by rising prices and stagnant wages, yet receiving ever-diminishing support from the Government over the course of the last year.” The report, co-funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found it cost about £160 a week to raise a child, including child care costs and housing. The basic cost for a couple to raise a child over 18 years was £81,772 or £148,105 including rent, child care and council tax with those figures rising to £90,980 and £161,260 respectively for a lone parent. Child care costs have risen sharply over the last 12 months, by 5.9%, yet the value of both child benefit and child tax credit relative to the costs of raising a child have decreased, the CPAG said. Many low-income families have also seen cuts in housing support, such as the spare room subsidy, or bedroom tax, and many non-working families are now required to pay council tax. The report also found that families on out-of-work benefits faced an even greater shortfall of income, with couples receiving only 58% of what they need to meet minimum costs, and lone parents getting 61%. The CPAG also said the introduction of the universal credit system in October would bring mixed results, with couples and lone parents working full time on a minimum wage being left some way short of an acceptable living standard. Ms Garnham called on the Government to “renew our national commitment” to children before the next election. A Government spokesman said: “We know times are tough and we are securing a recovery for everyone who wants to work hard. “That is why we are taking action to help families with the cost of living by cutting income tax for 25 million people, saving a typical taxpayer over £700, taking 2.7 million out of income tax altogether and freezing council tax for five years. “Furthermore, our measures to fix the welfare system with the introduction of the universal credit will make three million households better off.”
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.
Fife Council’s Lib Dem group leader has said he can’t see how Frank’s Law can be fully delivered in the current financial climate. Tay Bridgehead councillor Tim Brett said the predicted £300 million a year price tag is “very significant” and additional funding would have to be provided. He said it was with a heavy heart he admits it will be extremely difficult to implement Frank’s Law in Scotland unless full additional funding is provided. Health Secretary Shona Robison cited the £300m figure from work carried out by her officials and Stirling University’s Professor David Bell. Mr Brett said: “It can be very difficult to know when a person may die and therefore the current arrangements to say that people can receive free home care in their last six months of life is difficult if not impossible to implement.” He continued: “The other bigger issue for all of us is that while we would like to see Frank’s Law introduced, the fact remains that nearly all local authorities across Scotland are struggling to meet the needs of their populations at the present time.” Amanda’s husband Frank, former Dundee United and Manchester United star, was diagnosed with dementia at 59 and died shortly after his 65th birthday. The Kopel family paid thousands of pounds in care costs until just weeks before his death. The Courier has backed Amanda’s campaign, as have a number of footballing stars. Health Secretary Shona Robison said a decision on Frank’s Law could be made by the time parliament breaks up in March. Frank’s Law candidate Pat Kelly previously said the estimated £300m price tag should not be the project’s death knell. He said one person’s dignity “has no price tag” and that 1p on income tax could raise £330m. In response to Mr Brett’s comments, Mr Kelly added: “The Barnett consequentials means that £800 million will come to Scotland by Westminster, so perhaps some of that money can be ring-fenced for Frank’s Law. “That with the 1p in income tax shows there’s money there.”
Plans by boutique hotel chain Malmaison to give the Tay Hotel a new lease of life show Dundee's potential to become a major tourist destination, it has been argued. The Courier revealed on Monday that the popular hotel chain is behind proposals for an ambitious redevelopment of the Tay Hotel. Although still a landmark building in the city centre, the hotel has been derelict since 1997 when it was closed down after a small fire. However, Malmaison is now working with developers with a view to transforming the building into a 91-room boutique hotel. Dundee City Council development convener Will Dawson said the proposal, along with Unicorn Property's plan to turn Customs House into a similarly upmarket hotel, would help transform perceptions of Dundee at home and abroad. He said, "It shows a lot of confidence in the city having such a prestigious hotel coming here and a lot of belief in what we've got planned for the waterfront." Mr Dawson said Malmaison's plans to open a hotel in Dundee show the city is shedding the negative image it has often been tarred with in the past. "That's the whole thinking behind a lot of what we have been working towards with things like the One City, Many Discoveries campaign. The negative impression Dundee has had wasn't deserved at all. To have two major opportunities in Dundee like Malmaison and Customs House shows a lot of positive support for Dundee and a lot of confidence in the future. "I think the V&A has helped a lot with the decisions that these companies have made."LeadingHe added that the developments like Malmaison and plans for the V&A at Dundee will help turn the city into a leading tourist destination. "It's not before time. Dundee already has a lot to offer people, including world-class attractions like Discovery Point and The McManus," Mr Dawson said. Dundee would be home to Malmaison's 13th hotel if the company proceeds with its plans. Malmaison operates hotels in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Reading. Formed in 1994, the group is owned by MWB Group Holdings. The company also owns the Hotel du Vin chain, which includes the prestigious Glasgow hotel One Devonshire Gardens. MWB bought the Malmaison chain for £77 million in 2000 when it had just five hotels. MWB then paid £66.4 million for six Hotel du Vin hotels four years later. The company's pre-tax losses rose from £7.8 million to £11.6 million in the last six months of 2010 while its debts rose to £302 million, primarily because of the expansion of its hotels portfolio. According to the company's interim report published last month, the company aims to reduce Malmaison's debt in order to pay for further expansion of the brand. It also reveals that although the Tay Hotel may become part of the Malmaison group, it is unlikely the firm will buy the building outright. "As part of this debt reduction, we aim to reduce debt within Malmaison and Hotel du Vin (Malmaison), so as to further improve the level of gearing and to facilitate the planned expansion of our hotel brands both within the UK and, in appropriate circumstances, abroad," it states. "This proposed expansion will follow the more traditional hotel business model in that we will take either operating leases or negotiate operating and management agreements, rather than purchasing property which we would own directly. By adopting this approach we will avoid exposure to the considerable risks inherent in property investment, development and management."
MSPs passed a Budget imposing tax rises on Scottish workers as new figures showed a rise in unemployment. Business groups have repeatedly said that Scotland’s fragile economy will be harmed by hiking income tax for middle and higher earners. But their warnings were dismissed when the SNP’s tax and spending plans passed their final parliamentary hurdle - on the day the country’s jobless total increased by 14,000. The SNP and Greens joined forces to push the £33bn Budget through by 70 votes to 56 on Wednesday night. Dean Lockhart, the Fife MSP for the Scottish Conservatives, said the unemployment figures show the importance of having a “strong economy focused on growth, high wages and competitive taxes”. “Instead, the SNP only wants to hike tax, which will scare away investment and risk higher unemployment figures in future,” he said. “The Nationalists should listen to the experts and keep taxes competitive for workers and businesses.” Scotland's unemployment rate rose to 4.5% - to 124,000 people - in the final three months of last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. In the same period the number of people in employment in Scotland fell by 20,000 to stand at 2,632,000. There were nearly 12,000 people claiming jobseekers’ allowance in Tayside and Fife in January, the latest figures available. That is 295 more than the same month last year and follows a long-term downward trend in those claiming the unemployment benefit. Challenged on the jobs figures in Holyrood, Mr Mackay insisted his Budget will boost the economy by investing in skills, productivity and innovation. The 2018/19 Budget includes an extra £400m for the NHS and £243m towards doubling the number of free childcare for families to 1,140 hours. It also exempts first-time buyers from LBTT, which is the equivalent of stamp duty. Mr Mackay, who said the NHS benefits most from the Budget, said: “We are delivering stimulus, sustainability and a stronger society.” The Federation for Small Businesses said most of its members were against the tax rises, adding the Budget “must not open the floodgates to a host of Scottish supplements, charges and levies”.
A radical reshaping of the North Sea’s tax regime combined with a major cost-cutting drive is required if the UK’s oil and gas industry is to regain ground lost to international competitors. Trade body Oil & Gas UK today publishes its activity report for 2015 - a document it says provides “striking evidence of how rising costs, taxes and inadequate regulation have taken their toll” on the sector’s global competitiveness. The report states urgent tax reforms are needed in order to secure new investment and address a collapse in exploration during 2014. The group fears the number of spuds could fall into single figures in 2015 and is concerned that hundreds of thousands of jobs may be placed at risk if major reforms of the UKCS fiscal regime aren’t implemented swiftly. “If the challenge facing our industry was significant when oil was at $110 per barrel, the scale of the issue has greatly escalated with the oil price collapse. Whilst some progress has been made, the pace and extent of change for all of them has not been sufficient,” OGUK chief executive Malcolm Webb said. “Industry recognises that its cost base is unsustainable and has been taking steps to reduce its costs and improve efficient. However, it will take time for this to achieve a substantial impact and, unfortunately, the cost of operating the UKCS has continued to rise from £8.9 billion to £9.6bn in 2014. “This report demonstrates that cost reductions of up to 40% per barrel of oil equivalent must be achieved to secure a sustainable future for this basin. “This can be done but only through combining major effort on cost reduction, production improvement and fresh investment. We must get the balance right between investment and cost control. Cost cutting alone will diminish this industry. “To survive, we must sustain investment, which is why this province is in urgent need of significant regulatory and fiscal reform.” The report found production fell by 1% in 2014 to 1.42 million barrels of oil per day equivalent and revenues declined to £24bn, the lowest level since 1998. Capital investment during the year rose to £14.8bn - a total inflated by cost over-runs and project slippage - but the figure is expected to fall to between £9.5bn and £11.3bn this year. Fourteen of 25 expected wells were drilled during the year while the cost of production rose to a record high of £18.50 per barrel. Mr Webb said the industry was facing “exceptional challenge” with little fresh investment and a lack of new projects being generated. “Both the British and Scottish Governments have recognised in their industrial strategies that the value of this industry is much more than simple a source of production taxes,” Mr Webb said. “I also hope government is alert to the danger that, without immediate radical action to improve the tax regime, hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by this industry will be left in jeopardy and the UK’s energy security and balance of trade would also stand to suffer serious damage.”