Bonanza for 'club clique' as RAC is sold off

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The Independent Online
THE Royal Automobile Club, Britain's oldest motoring organisation, is to be sold to an American company, Cendant, for pounds 450m. Four MPs are among a "club clique" of RAC members set to receive a pounds 35,000 windfall from the sale.

The proposed buy-out must be approved by the 12,000 members of the RAC's plush Pall Mall club in a meeting next month. Among this exclusive group are Tory MPs Shaun Woodward and Peter Luff as well as the president of the Liberal Democrats, Robert Maclennan, and Labour MP Derek Wyatt, a former BSkyB executive.

Anybody rushing to "carpetbag" is too late - even if they could get in. There is a six-month waiting list to use the Pall Mall facilities - believed to have the best Turkish baths in London - and a prospective member needs to be "recommended" by two current club users.

But under its two-tier membership structure the 6 million "members" of the rescue service - who contribute the bulk of the RAC's profits - will not benefit and do not need to be consulted.

Contacted by The Independent, the MPs described the payments as "quite incredible". "I have done nothing to earn this. I find it all very doubtful," said Mr Maclennan, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. "I have been a member of the club for about 10 years. Simply because it has a good swimming pool." Mr Woodward, MP for Witney and former director of communications, also joined for the "pool". "I have no objection to the demutualisation. What I want is the club to work," he said.

Others set to receive the cash bonuses are the designer Paul Smith and the former Formula One champion Damon Hill.

The RAC board has been canvassing support for a switch from its mutual status. It has already received 6,700 replies from full members, of which "more than 90 per cent have been supportive". The sale is likely to go ahead later this year, after a formal show of hands at a meeting in June.

Cendant, virtually unheard of in the UK, has just bought up the third largest motoring organisation, Green Flag. Its three million members and the RAC's 5.8 million will make the new motoring support service almost equal in size to the Automobile Association.