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Government ministers have witnessed the first official trials of the fully autonomous Meridian shuttle in Greenwich this morning.
Transport minister Claire Perry said: “Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development, to embrace a technology that could transform our roads and open up a brand new route for global investment.
“These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity for this country to take a lead internationally in the development of this new technology.”
Perry was joined at the Greenwich launch this morning by business secretary Vince Cable.
Cable said: “The UK is at the cutting edge of automotive technology – from the all-electric cars built in Sunderland, to the formula one expertise in the Midlands. It’s important for jobs, growth and society that we keep at the forefront of innovation, that’s why I launched a competition to research and develop driverless cars. The projects we are now funding in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry will help to ensure we are world-leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900 billion industry by 2025.
“The Government’s industrial strategy is backing the automotive sector as it goes from strength to strength, we are giving business the confidence to invest over the long term and developing cutting-edge technology that will create high skilled jobs.”
The GATEway project demonstrated today will investigate new forms of automated technology in Greenwich, London. It will undertake three live trials of driverless vehicles including passenger shuttle transport and autonomous valet parking of electric cars. Led by TRL, the project is based in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London.
The world’s first ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is on track to be introduced in London from September 7, 2020.
London mayor Boris Johnson will make a final decision on the scheme in the spring with fleets then having a five-year window in which to ensure cars and light commercial vehicles meet air quality standards and avoid paying to enter the ULEZ charge, which is expected to mirror the existing London congestion charge zone in terms of geography.
Transport for London (TfL) is analysing the results of its recently concluded public consultation on the scheme and will then make recommendations to the mayor.
He will then make a decision on whether to confirm the scheme order, with or without modifications to that outlined in the consultation document. If introduced, the ULEZ will operate 24/7, 365 days a year.
TfL says that in giving businesses and public sector organisations five years’ notification of introduction of the ULEZ it anticipates that “many vehicles will already be compliant”, with fleets having gone through replacement programmes.
It is proposed that ULEZ standards for cars, small and large vans and minibuses will adhere to Euro4 emissions standards for petrol-engined models, which have been on sale for many years, and Euro6 for diesel.
All new cars registered from September 1, 2015 must meet the Euro6 standard with all new light commercial vehicle registrations required to from September 1, 2016. However, a number of manufacturers already have Euro6 compliant vehicles on sale.
A vehicle that does not meet the ULEZ standard will be able to enter the zone but a proposed daily charge of £12.50 will apply.
Compliance will be enforced using the existing Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras – both fixed and mobile – already installed within the ULEZ area, which are also used for congestion charge enforcement.
Failure to pay will result in registered keepers being issued with a penalty charge notice for light vehicles of £130 (reduced to £65 if paid within 14 days).
Conservative MEPs are this week expected to back measures to help British authorities pursue foreign drivers who break UK traffic laws.
Proposals before the European Parliament in Strasbourg will enable EU countries to swap ownership details of vehicles involved in offences in order to crack down on drivers who return to their home states without paying fines or fixed penalties.
The directive would cover a range of offences including drink-driving, speeding, using a mobile phone at the wheel and ignoring red lights or one-way signs.
Conservative transport and tourism spokesman Jacqueline Foster said the proposals would help the police tackle foreign drivers who disregard road safety and the law.
She said: “Most drivers who bring their vehicles on to British roads do so with consideration and respect for road safety.
“But some do break the rules and the consequences can be serious.
“There may even be those who repeatedly ignore the law because they think they can never be punished. That makes me angry.
“The measures which we are backing, and which our Conservative-led Government supports, will go some way into giving our authorities more of a fighting chance when it comes to imposing the law and seeing that justice is done.”
The Government is extending its Rural Fuel Rebate Scheme to 17 of the most remote areas in Scotland and England.
The rebate, which allows retailers to receive up to a 5p per litre (ppl) fuel duty discount on unleaded petrol and diesel, has been welcomed by the fleet operator trade organisation ACFO.
The UK’s most rural islands already receive the discount, but it will be the first time that European legislators have approved a fuel discount for introduction on the mainland.
The European Commission has already approved its introduction, but the initiative must also receive approval from other member states through the Council of the European Union.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said he was hopeful the scheme would be introduced before the May 7 general election, as part of the Government’s drive for a “stronger economy and fairer society”.
The 17 postcode areas in which the rebate will be introduced include parts of the Scottish Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Northumberland, Cumbria, Devon and Hawes in north Yorkshire. Since 2012, the Rural Fuel Rebate Scheme has applied to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles, islands in the Clyde, and the Isles of Scilly.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) says it is working its way through a number of claims against Class 1 National Insurance (NI) contributions.
Employers are hoping to secure a refund against tax paid on lump sum payments made to employees who use their own cars on business trips.
Total People’s seven-year legal battle related to an NI refund claim based on the difference between the HMRC 40p per mile allowable rate (now 45p) and the 12p per mile paid by the employer plus an additional lump sum paid to the employees for using their private cars on business.
The value of the amount claimed was approximately £146,000, which it is understood has now been paid by HMRC, or around £1,000 per employee involved.
It has resulted in claims being lodged by an estimated 250 companies. Tax and pension specialists Innovation Professional Services is confident that HMRC will pay up.
However, an HMRC spokesman told Fleet News: “We are not making refunds automatically as a result of the decision made by the Court of Appeal.”
Refund payments can go back six years from the date lodged with HMRC and John Messore, director of Innovation Professional Services, has urged employers yet to make a protective claim to do so before the end of the 2014/15 financial year.
An online trial has been launched by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), allowing company car drivers to make changes to car and fuel benefits that will affect their tax codes.
It means that Pay As You Earn (PAYE) customers, who have company cars, will be able to make any changes online to their company cars and will no longer have to wait for HMRC to update their tax code for them.
HMRC’s chief digital and information officer, Mark Dearnley, said: “HMRC is rolling out customer-focused digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that everyone who can use them will choose to do so.
“Our digital services will deliver significant savings to HMRC’s customers in both the cost of phone calls and time spent dealing with the department.
“They will also mean that people can deal with the department when it is most convenient for them – rather than for us.
“This trial means that we can incorporate customer’s feedback to ensure we deliver a service they want.”
The new digital service is being used with GOV.UK Verify – the new way for people to prove who they are when using government digital services.
HMRC receives about 4.3 million calls a year from customers about their tax codes.
HMRC has recently completed a public consultation on voluntary pay-rolling of benefits-in-kind, including company car benefits.
Arnold Clark Automobiles, Europe’s largest independent car dealer, has acquired Ness Motors.
Arnold Clark, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, will acquire 104 employees and sites in Inverness, Elgin and Perth. All of the branches will be Renault, Dacia or Citroen franchises.
Eddie Hawthorne (pictured), managing director, said: ‘We are delighted to welcome Ness Motors to the Arnold Clark family. As a company, we share many of the same values as Ness Motors, and look forward to continuing to offer great value and excellent service to customers at the new showrooms.’
Sir Arnold Clark established the group in 1954 and now employs more than 9,000 staff nationwide, with branches located in Scotland and England.
The company has been awarded the title of Retailer of the Year by Automotive Management for the past three years, and had a turnover of £2.9 billion in 2014.
Ness Motors was founded in 1960, and was purchased by company accountant Scott Lauder in the early 1980s from retiring owner and chairman Bill Gilbert. The business expanded through the years by acquiring a number of franchises for the North of Scotland, including Renault.
Lower oil prices will fail to give a “significant boost” to global growth in the next two years, Moody’s has said.
The ratings agency said any boost from cheaper oil would be offset by the eurozone’s economic woes as well as slowdowns in China, Japan and Russia.
As a result, Moody’s said it would not be revising its growth forecasts for the G20 countries.
“For the G20 economies, we expect GDP growth of just under 3% each year in 2015 and 2016.”
This was unchanged from 2014 and from its previous forecast, Moody’s said.
Marie Diron, the author of the report, said: “Lower oil prices should, in principle, give a significant boost to global growth.
“However, a range of factors will offset the windfall income gains from cheaper energy.
“In the euro area, the fall in oil prices takes place in an unfavourable economic climate, with high unemployment, low or negative inflation and resurgent political uncertainty in some countries.”
Moody’s said the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme would give a slight boost to the eurozone by weakening the euro.
However, it said: “Weak demand in the euro area suggests that companies will have to pass on the lower energy costs, limiting the potential for higher profit margins.”
David Cameron has said a future Tory government will help 500 of the UK’s fastest-growing companies to expand, by guaranteeing business loans.
The prime minister said this would prevent successful companies trying to grow from falling into the financial “valley of death”.
The Help to Grow scheme would see the government use its balance sheet to underwrite private loans or co-invest.
Labour said the government had failed to get banks lending to small business.
The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have been setting out their plans for enterprise and industry, at the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce.
In his speech, Mr Cameron said the UK was enjoying its strongest economic growth for seven years, with optimism among business owners and consumers rising.
Despite this, he said, fast-growing companies were still struggling to attract the finance they needed to enable them to move to the next stage of development.