British Gas

British Gas has said that it is recruiting staff in the West Midlands for a new insulation business to capitalise on a market expected to be worth £1.4 billion by 2015.

The utility giant is hiring 190 staff across the Midlands, with plans to roll out the service within a year.

It already offers loft and cavity wall insulation but only through external contractors and wants to bring the work in-house to capture a slice of the surge in demand.

Last year, British Gas insulated 270,000 loft and cavity walls through its existing external contractor service.

The domestic UK insulation market is forecast to more than double from the current £600 million a year within three years under Government targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34% within 10 years compared to the level seen in 1990.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said last year that the Government’s ambition was to provide cavity wall and loft insulation for all suitable properties by 2015.

British Gas said it was looking to recruit cavity wall insulation technicians, loft insulation technicians, team managers, energy experts and also some roles for planning and support.

British Gas said: “We are aiming to bring this in-house as part of a much wider push to build our energy efficiency and services business, adding additional expertise and value as demand is set to increase rapidly.”

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Pub Relaunch

A Birmingham city centre pub has relaunched after a £250,000 refurb.

The Sun On The Hill, on Bennetts Hill, takes the place of the former Hill Pub which has been revamped with a new interior and menu.

The Sun On The Hill co-owner, Andy Twigg, said “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to redevelop one of Birmingham’s famous leisure spots.  We truly believe The Sun will have great appeal to many people working in the area who want to enjoy a drink after work, catch up with friends or are looking for something different in the city at the weekend.”

To celebrate the Sun’s launch, the pub is offering customers a drink on the house. For further information on this promotion and to find out about upcoming events, visit  Alternatively, follow them on Facebook.

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Efforts by farmers to improve Britain’s food and energy security will be “strangled at birth” without smarter spending and incentives from Government, farming leaders have warned ahead of a major event in Birmingham.

Speaking ahead of the National Farmers’ Union conference on Tuesday, the organisation’s president Peter Kendall said agriculture could provide solutions to problems the UK would face in the future - but politicians needed to spend money more wisely on farming.

The annual conference at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, at the NEC, will hear from Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert and Lib Dem environment spokesman Tim Farron.

Mr Kendall warned that whoever won the general election would have to face the threat of energy crises, food shortages and the impacts of climate change and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The NFU president pointed to the comments of Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who led the “green revolution” in agriculture to increase yields, who said that in the coming 50 years the world would have to produce more food than in the past 10,000 years.

“In response to this challenge, farmers could double their wheat and oilseed rape production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefiting biodiversity,” Mr Kendall said.

“While producing more food we also have the capacity to generate power through hundreds of on-farm anaerobic digestion plants using farm slurry and waste.

“As well as contributing to the National Grid, these could also turn farm manure into fertiliser for re-use on soils and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions - everybody wins.

“But - and this is a big but - unless Government agrees to sensible financial incentives and smarter spending, the solutions on offer will be strangled at birth.”

He said it was not a case of spending more money on agriculture, but spending more wisely, providing a long-term framework which would help small farm businesses.

Mr Kendall said the £1,740 spent processing each single farm payment under the Common Agricultural Policy in England - compared with just £285 in Scotland - showed how much money was currently wasted in agriculture and where savings could be made.

Reducing costs to £500 a claim would shave more than £100 million a year off the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) annual spending.

And the cattle tracing system in England covers far fewer animals than a similar scheme in Australia which costs far less than ours.

“Savings in these areas could release money for essential research and development for food production,” Mr Kendall said.

He said £15 million announced recently to get laboratory research into the field was “a great start” but was overshadowed by the bankers’ bailout package of £37 billion.

Ahead of the conference Mr Kendall also hit out at proposals for a “livestock tax” on farmers to pay for dealing with animal disease control, describing the plans as a “head-on mugging for money”.

And the divisive issue of bovine TB and whether politicians should give the go-ahead for a cull of badgers, which carry the disease, is likely to dominate the NFU conference again this year.

When he addresses the conference, Mr Farron will tell farmers the animal tax is an “insulting attempt” by the Government to pass the buck for disease preparation.

He will set out proposals for a powerful food market regulator, claiming Labour and Tory plans to introduce a supermarket ombudsman are just a fig leaf.

And he will defend direct farm payments under the CAP but will urge reform to cut waste and strengthen the farming.

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Analysts and shareholders have given their backing to Halfords’ £73.2 million takeover of a Midland car servicing firm.

The Redditch-based firm has completed the acquisition of Nationwide Autocentres in a £73.2 million deal.

The move was welcomed in the City as Halfords shares rose almost 10 per cent in early trading after the announcement, which is set to create up to 1,000 new jobs.

Andrew Wade, an analyst at Numis Securities, said the deal represented “excellent use” of Halfords’ strong cash generation.

He added: “As well as providing another leg of growth to a solid core business, we see significant scope for cross-marketing and synergies.”

As a direct result of the acquisition, Mr Wade raised his forecast on 2011 pre-tax profits by £6 million to £130 million. He is looking for profits of £114.4 million in the current financial year.

After the deal, Nationwide’s 224 sites will be rebranded as Halfords Autocentres and it is expected that Halfords will roll out a further 200 centres.

Halfords said the rapid increase in demand for its in-store “we fit” services highlighted the opportunities in the car maintenance market.

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Pret a Manger

Sandwich chain Pret A Manger has signed a deal to open three shops inside Birmingham International Airport.

The shops are the first to open in any airport outside the South East region. There will be one shop in the departure lounge of Terminal 1, one before departures in the same terminal and a new external kiosk.

Andrew Walker, the managing director at Pret, said: "We are really impressed by the vision of the team at Birmingham Airport and are looking forward to working in partnership to deliver a great service to their millions of passengers."

Richard Gill, the head of commercial market development at the airport, added: "We are delighted to be welcoming another established and successful brand here to Birmingham Airport and look forward to seeing the outlets operational and offering passengers their trademark high-standard of fresh produce.

"The airport is currently embarking on a £13 million terminal redesign, which will see a vastly improved commercial offering to passengers, and these new Pret A Manger outlets signal our intent to attract the very best to Birmingham."

Work on the units is set to begin in March, with plans to be open for business in May. The shops’ opening hours will be between 4am-11pm Monday to Sunday, with plans to open 24 hours during the summer months when the airport is busiest.

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Tower Ballroom

The rollercoaster history of Edgbaston’s Tower Ballroom is taking a new twist after its latest owners unveiled a £1 million facelift and plans to tap into the lucrative Asian wedding market.

Bal Sangha, who last year took over The Tower Ballroom from its previous owner, pub entrepreneur Liam O’Connor, is planning to update the venue and maximise its potential to host wedding celebrations for up to 1,500 people, while still carrying on the traditional tea dances and Saturday night over-25s disco the venue is known for.

She said: “Before we bought it we could see the potential but it wasn’t being optimised. It was looking a bit dowdy, so we have already made various changes.

“We have put in a new bar and are changing the carpets and giving it a new coat of paint and have put in a brand new extension on the VIP room.”

The Tower Ballroom, located on the edge of Edgbaston Reservoir, has had a turbulent history over the last decade and was even earmarked for demolition at one point.

Developers Countrywide had intended to build 90 homes on the site in 2006 but hostility from local residents forced the firm to scrap the plans and keep the venue standing in its original form as dance hall venue.

The building – originally created as an ice skating rink but used as a dancehall since the 1920s – was reopened with huge fanfare in 2008 when Mr O’Connor took over the derelict ballroom, which had laid empty since 2005.

Mr O’Connor, whose firm The Midland Pub Company runs venues like the Kerryman in High Street Digbeth, the Bromford Inn in Washwood Heath, and Woodgate Valley Sports and Social Club, was celebrated as a local hero when he breathed new life into the venue.

He sold up last summer to Ms Sangha, who also runs a ready-mix concrete company called Trucube.

She has hired events manager Raj Jutlla to extend The Tower’s reach in the Asian weddings market.

Ms Jutlla said there was a gap in the market in Birmingham for venues which can hold large numbers of guests at Asian weddings, which she described as “a marriage of families, not individuals”.

She said: “The market is worth around £40 million an year and the majority of the people who offer venues have bought up run-down buildings in industrial areas and turned them into wedding venues.

“As far as I know the Tower Ballroom is the only Asian wedding venue in Birmingham that is set in a picturesque area.

“The recession hasn’t hit the Asian market at all – people are still paying an average of £15,000 to £20,000 for their weddings with an average number of around 700 people.

“What’s been happening though is that the younger generation are looking to still pay the same amount of money but have less people at the wedding.

“But even though the numbers coming to the functions are coming down, it won’t change too much because people are quite set in their ways.”

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