Anger at AA's 'exclusive deal' with garage chain

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The Independent Online

The AA has a direct financial incentive to take members' cars to a chain of garages, rather than repair them at the side of the road, internal documents show.

The 15-million-member motoring organisation receives £10 for each vehicle it takes to Nationwide Autocentre, and its patrol staff are awarded bonuses on the same basis.

An AA "communication update'' circulated among staff says the car repair company shall be "working in partnership" with the motoring organisation.

The document emphasises the importance of driving up income: "Every time the AA take work into NW [Nationwide Autocentre], they pay us £10 for every job. It is imperative that we direct as much work as possible in their direction."

While the AA insisted that roadside repairs were its "number one priority", staff representatives argued that the ethos was being undermined by the incentive.

Paul Maloney of the GMB general union said: "There is a direct incentive not to repair vehicles at the side of the road. There is an incentive scheme in operation that benefits our members every time they take a vehicle to one of these Autocentres."

He said the bonuses paid to employees were dwarfed by the amount of money the AA was making out of it. Mr Maloney says that around 2,250 vehicles per day were not mended on site; so the organisation stood to make up to £800,000 a year out of the arrangement.

Mr Maloney said that staff were under constant pressure to make the company money, but that it had fallen to third place among motoring organisations in terms of response times.

The venture-capitalist owners CVC Capital Partners and Permira had cut 3,400 jobs from the 10,000-strong workforce that provides services to motorists. He alleged that the private equity owners were "asset-stripping'' the organisation.

The company has declined to comment on reports that they were increasing the AA's debt to £1.85bn from the £1.3bn to pay themselves a £500m dividend.

Mr Maloney said that the AA once boasted that 90 per cent of the vehicles were repaired at the roadside, but employees were now allowed to take the proportion to below 80 per cent.

A spokeswoman for the AA said the GMB was attacking the organisation because employees had voted to get rid of the union in favour of the AA Democratic Union, a staff association.

However, she conceded that the organisation and its staff had a direct financial incentive to take broken-down vehicles to Nationwide Autocentre, but said that the patrol personnel were expected to mend eight out of 10 vehicles on site. The target was part of a range of criteria to determine performance and pay.

Repairing cars at the roadside was the "ultimate priority". She denied that there was an incentive for patrol staff not to repair vehicles on site. If it was possible to mend a car at the roadside, then the repairs would be carried out.

She said that depending on the AA member's cover, they would either be taken to a local garage or further afield. The Nationwide Autocentre garages were regularly checked to ensure that they met AA standards.