AA Staff Vote To Strike

(Independent) – STAFF AT THE AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION (AA) have voted for their first national strike in more than a century, in a row over proposed changes to their pension schemes.

The breakdown service’s union, the Independent Democratic Union (IDU), said that 57 per cent of its 2,400 members had voted in favour of the walkout, with an 87 per cent turnout. Staff are angry at the AA’s plans to cap employee pensions.

“We will look at the result and decide what we’re going to do next,” said the IDU national secretary Alistair Maclean. “We would rather talk with the AA and try to reach an agreement. If we don’t manage to sit down with the company, we have no alternative than to follow the result of the ballot and set dates for strike action.”

The AA management wants to put a cap on pensionable salaries, to raise employee contributions and to reduce the maximum annual rise in pensions paid to 2.5 per cent a year. Mr Maclean accused the AA’s owners of trying to rob pensions in a move he said would cost employees. The AA expressed disappointment at the outcome of yesterday’s ballot, describing the IDU as “out of touch with the real world”. The breakdown service accused the IDU of “jumping the gun” by balloting AA patrols on strike action before the consultation period ends on 23 April.

“Ballots calling for industrial action are premature as we believe that most staff accept the need for change,” said Andrew Strong, chief executive of AA Services. “We have committed to increase our contributions by 40 per cent, and have improved our offer by raising the cap so feel that the union is out of touch with the real world on this issue.

“We think the majority of staff will support our proposals. We want to offer all our staff a good deal on pensions. The AA is bucking the trend by proposing to keep our final salary section and career average sections open when most companies are closing theirs.”

The AA said a majority of patrols did not vote in favour of strike action – which would be the first in organisation’s 105 year history – as more than 400 were not part of the union. “There’s still support among our patrols so we’re hoping it won’t go to a strike,” said Sue Beeson, head of PR at the AA.

The AA’s 15 million members across the country have been reassured by the self-proclaimed “fourth emergency service” that contingency plans would be enacted to ensure they received a good service, as hundreds of patrols would not be involved in any strike action.

However, the Association of British Drivers expressed concern. “It’s a very sad day if people are going to be breaking down and not getting the help they need,” said a spokesman. “A lot of people do rely on the AA and RAC for breakdown cover. If that’s not forthcoming, that’s not a good situation for drivers.”

Meanwhile, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union held an executive meeting yesterday to plan for a fresh ballot, after strike action timetabled for this week was ruled unlawful by the High Court. “Our dispute with Network Rail remains alive,” said the RMT leader Bob Crow. “The fight to defend 1,500 safety-critical jobs out on the tracks, and safe working conditions for both our signals and maintenance staff, will not be kicked aside by one highly political court ruling.”

… (Guardian, 08/04/2010) – AA Strikes Will Include Bank Holiday

… (Telegraph, 24/04/2010) – AA Strike Is Called Off

Road Tax Doubles On Many Cars

(Telegraph) – ROAD TAX tax on many new cars bought from today will double, hitting £950 for the largest vehicles.

The owners of more than six million cars already on the road also face road tax rises more than double the rate of inflation.

Under a new Government “green tax” regime, Vehicle Excise Duty rates have been changed to reflect the emissions from car engines.

A total of 13 emission ‘bands’ have been introduced, with the owners of the highest polluting vehicles paying the most in road tax – and significantly more than before the changes.

An additional one-off ‘showroom tax’ will also apply to anyone who wants to buy a new car in one of the most polluting bands. Cars in nine of the 13 bands will incur this tax.

The increases were announced in 2008 but only take force today. Motoring groups said the taxes are an unfair penalty on drivers.

Based on last year’s sales figures, around 1.4 million cars that incur a showroom tax will be sold in 2010/11.

Under the scheme, new cars with the largest emissions will incur a levy of £950 in their first year when the showroom tax and higher road tax bills are combined.

That is more than twice the rate levied on the biggest emitters already on the road.

Smaller cars with low emissions will face no tax in their first year.

The Treasury said the new tax regime would “send a stronger signal to the buyer about the environmental implications of their car purchase”.

But critics said the measures are simply another revenue-raising measure imposed on motorists already hurt by high fuel prices.

The top rate of showroom tax is targeted at high-emitting “supercars”.

Every new car built by Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce will face a £950 tax, as will most new Jaguars. So will some Range Rovers and the Vauxhall Insignia 2.8.

At the other end of the scale, new cars with low emissions, including the Audi A3 1.6 TDI and the BMW 316d will pay no road tax in the first year.

According the AA, around 1.44 million cars last year were sold which would be hit by the new showroom tax this year.

Paul Watters, head of public affairs at the AA, warned that the new tax could be the thin end of the wedge

He said: “The problem is that with any new tax, once it is introduced we have crossed a threshold. It’s open then for any Chancellor to increase it. Okay, those paying £950 a year are going to be driving a pretty special breed of car. But they will be already be paying a far higher rate of tax through fuel duty, because these cars consume more petrol.”

As well as the showroom tax, taxes on cars already on the road will also be increased to penalise those with the highest emissions. Low-emission vehicles will be cheaper to tax.

Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggest that 6.6 million car owners will see the tax on their existing cars increase by well above the rate of inflation.

Any car registered since 2001 that falls into Band I or above will incur higher tax this year.

The Band I tax rate will rise from £175 to £200, a jump of 14 per cent.

Cars falling into that band include the Land Rover Freelander 2.2 diesel, the Toyota Avensis Estate 2.2 and Vauxhall Astra CC.

Band J cars, which include the Nissan Qashqai 2.0 diesel, the Honda CR-V 2.0 petrol and the Vauxhall Corsa 1.6, will incur tax of £235, up from £200.

Paul Everitt of the SMMT said that, with the economy still fragile, ministers should have delayed the tax rise.

He said: “We are disappointed that government didn’t take the opportunity in last week’s Budget to defer the introduction of the first year rate or the increase in standard VED rates.

“Environmental taxes need to be clear and consistent so that motorists can be confident that they will reap the benefits from their decision.”

The Taxpayers’ Alliance said duty rises were “naked money-grabbing dressed up as green taxes.”

Mark Wallace of the alliance said: “After years of painful tax rises, it beggars belief that the Government are punishing drivers again.

“Most people who will be hit by these tax rises are not self-indulgent leisure motorists – they need their cars to get to work and to carry their families.”

Petrol Prices Heading For Record High Of £5.40 Per Gallon

(Guardian) – MOTORISTS should brace for record high petrol prices this year as the cost of unleaded fuel surges to £1.20 a litre or more, according to research by the AA.

In a stark warning to consumers, the organisation says those struggling on tight budgets would be hard hit by the predicted price hike and has urged the chancellor, Alistair Darling, to postpone the introduction of a planned 3p hike in petrol duty, due on 1 April.

The average petrol price is currently just over £1.15 a litre, but the AA says pump prices could nudge £1.20 by next month – equivalent to over £5.40 a gallon – when the petrol levy is due to start.

Figures show the average petrol bill for a two-car family has already soared by £52 a month in the past year, to £245.

The AA’s president, Edmund King, said: “The UK is barely out of recession, yet petrol threatens to rise to record prices seen during the boom of 2008, shortly before the collapse into recession.

“If families, drivers on fixed incomes and those on low pay were unable to cope with prices then, they are even less likely now.” King attributed the increase to rises in the price of wholesale petrol since January.

Surging petrol prices will also hit supermarkets which have recently absorbed some of the cost of pump increases.

The RAC has joined calls for the government to hold back new fuel duty charges, saying petrol prices were well below the £1 a litre mark when the levy was announced in last year’s budget.

Lindsay Hoyle, Labour MP on the Commons business select committee, called the increase a “complete disgrace”.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Yes, crude oil has gone up this year, but nothing like the rise in petrol prices. Motorists are being legally mugged at the forecourt by petrol companies.”

Petrol Prices Have Risen 27% In A Year

(Independent) – THE AVERAGE PRICE OF PETROL is now above the 115p a litre mark, with motorists being hit with a 27 per cent increase over the last 12 months, the RAC said today.

Average pump prices were around 90.7p a litre a year ago, with the cost of filling a tank now around £264 a year more expensive for the average motorist, the RAC added.

It said that alongside the rising wholesale price of fuel, motorists had had to endure three tax rises on petrol in the last 12 months.

In April 2009 there was a 1.84p fuel duty rise followed by a further rise of 2p in September.

Then on January 1 2010, VAT increased by 2.5 per cent, causing a further increase of around 2.5p a litre. To further add to the misery for motorists fuel duty is set to rise on April 1 by inflation plus 1p.

RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink said: “The tough year for motorists continues unabated with petrol prices constantly spiralling upwards. The extra cost of filling up is making a huge dent in already-stretched family budgets.

“The Government needs to take a close look at the proposed fuel duty rise in April. When this was announced in last year’s Budget, petrol prices were well below the £1 a litre mark.

“Now they’re heading back towards the record highs of the summer of 2008, helped along the way by the Government’s taxation policy. The Government needs to give Britain’s motorists a break and cancel the proposed fuel duty rise.”

The AA said two-car families were now paying an average of £50 more a month for petrol than a year ago.

AA public affairs head Paul Watters added: “We are edging ever closer to the 119.7p-a-litre all-time record for the UK average price of petrol.

“The strain of higher fuel costs is already hurting business and families and uncomfortable memories of crippling prices in the record summer of 2008 are haunting drivers once again.”

Concern Over Toyota Fault Fears Grow

(Guardian) – TOYOTA OWNERS in the UK and US were today warned to stop driving their cars immediately amid growing concern about the consequences of a potentially lethal accelerator fault affecting 8m vehicles worldwide.

A leading traffic and criminal lawyer urged the owners of almost 181,000 vehicles recalled by Toyota in the UK to leave them at home or face being charged with dangerous driving if the fault caused an accident.

In the US, Barack Obama’s transport secretary, Ray LaHood, urged the owners of affected cars to stop driving them and “exercise caution until repairs can be made”.

LaHood’s statement aggravated the controversy around Toyota’s unprecedented recall, which has affected 2m cars in Europe alone.

He later claimed his remark was “a mis-statement” but, alongside growing concern about drivers’ legal responsibilities, the warnings to keep cars parked created extra worry for owners of the seven affected Toyota models, which include the Yaris, Corolla and Avensis.

Many have spoken of their panic as the mechanical fault caused accelerators to become stuck during high speed overtaking and cars had to be driven on to verges to slow them down.

Yesterday, Toyota insisted the affected cars remained safe to drive and added that it had now identified every vehicle with a faulty throttle.

Six days after the recall was first announced, it said it was planning to write to 180,865 British owners and arrange for their cars to be repaired at dealerships with a fix, shipped in from Japan, which the company said would take only 30 minutes to fit.

The first repairs are scheduled to begin on 10 February, but drivers are being urged by lawyers not to use their cars in order to avoid the threat of criminal and civil prosecution until then.

“If you have one of the affected Toyota models, you should not drive the car until it has been checked out,” Nick Freeman, a Manchester-based traffic lawyer who has made his name defending several famous footballers in speeding cases, said.

“The recall puts you on notice that there could be a fault, which means that you assume responsibility. You could be held criminally and civilly responsible for an accident and, in the case of a fatal accident, you could be charged with death by dangerous driving. If you have one of these cars, don’t drive it.”

The Association of Motor Offence Lawyers said that whether the recall put drivers on notice of a specific defect was “a grey area”, adding that the manufacturer could be held liable “for failing to ensure the recall was administered sufficiently quickly and efficiently to place individual vehicle owners on notice of the need to stop driving their vehicles”.

Miguel Fonseca, the managing director of Toyota GB plc, insisted that the affected Toyotas remained safe to drive but admitted the company needed to “rebuild trust” with its customers.

“This is not a problem that develops suddenly,” he said. “There are warning signs that will indicate that your vehicle might have a problem, such as the accelerator pedal becoming harder to depress or slow to return to its normal position.

“In the rare event that Toyota drivers notice that the accelerator pedal is hard to depress, slow to return or is unsmooth during operation, they should contact their nearest Toyota dealership.”

Catherine Block, a 28-year-old student in Kent, said abandoning her car would “turn a 35-minute drive to university into a logistical nightmare”.

“You might have a low impact crash and you could possibly flip it on a corner, but you can use your foot to un-stick the accelerator if you have the appropriate footwear,” she added.

Evidence of a possible second problem with Toyota accelerators in the UK also emerged yesterday. The Guardian learned that a Toyota dealer last year told a driver whose accelerator had got stuck while overtaking at 65mph that the problem had been caused by the rubber floor mat.

Toyota GB plc’s head office subsequently told him supply of the mats had been “frozen” and that it was looking to improve the quality of the accessory.

Toyota said the problem was limited to the US, where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes five people have died in crashes caused by accelerator pedals stuck in mats.

The Japanese government has also ordered Toyota to investigate a possible defect in its new Prius hybrid model after receiving 14 reports of brake trouble at low speeds.

Reduction in Fatal Road Accidents

(BBC) – THE NUMBER OF FATAL ACCIDENTS on roads in Essex over the past year has fallen compared with 2008, say police.

In total, 61 people died on the county’s roads in 2009, compared with 73 in the year before.

There were also 1,200 fewer serious injury accidents. Education programmes and prosecutions for offences would continue, police emphasised.

A spokesman said: “The reduction is encouraging; but with 61 deaths officers cannot rest on their laurels.”

Fifteen motorcyclists, 19 drivers, 11 passengers, 15 pedestrians and one cyclist were killed.

The causes of fatal accidents were driving too fast for the conditions, not wearing a seat belt when a vehicle crashed and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the spokesman said.

Future education programmes would focus on these issues and police officers would continue the policy of prosecuting drivers for road law offences, he said.

Motorists Face New £15 “Victims’ Surcharge”

(BBC) – MOTORISTS IN ENGLAND AND WALES, fined for minor offences, face having to pay bigger penalties under a government scheme to compensate victims of crime.

Since 2007, a £15 surcharge has been added to the fines of all people convicted of a crime, to raise money for support services for crime victims. Now ministers want to extend the scheme to on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices for a range of offences. They say the offences that could be targeted are not victimless crimes.

Under the current scheme, anyone fined by the courts pays an extra £15. However, ministers believe the amount raised could be significantly increased if it was extended to include people issued with on-the-spot fines or fixed penalty notices. This could include motorists caught speeding or flouting parking restrictions and those guilty of disorder offences such as shoplifting, writing graffiti or being drunk and disorderly.

Under the plans, a fine of £60 for speeding, using a mobile phone while driving or not wearing a seatbelt would be increased to £75.

Government officials deny the move amounts to a stealth tax. They argue that such offences are not “victimless crimes”, saying thousands are killed or injured on Britain’s roads every year and others have their lives ruined by anti-social behaviour.

The current levy, which was introduced in England and Wales as part of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, works in conjunction with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme that pays compensation to the victims of violent crime. Prior to its launch, the Home Office – which was responsible for the initiative at the time – said the surcharge was part of a series of moves to “rebalance” the criminal justice system in favour of victims.