NEWS

2010-03-30

Toyota

Toyota has said it will listen more carefully to customers and respond faster to complaints after the recall of millions of cars over safety fears.

The beleaguered carmaker made the pledge following the first meeting of its global safety committee, which was set up following the recalls.

It also said it would enlist the help of outside experts across the world.

Toyota was forced to recall more than 8 million cars globally after faulty brakes and accelerator pedals.

"Listening carefully to the voice of the customer is crucial to regaining credibility from our customers," said Toyota president Akio Toyoda.

"We are setting up a system to respond more quickly to complaints."

Executives and workers from around the world met for the inaugural meeting of Toyota's safety committee at the carmaker's headquarters in Japan.

The carmaker said it would bring in independent experts to help evaluate what went wrong with its quality control measures.

The committee will publish its first report in June, it added.

Toyota also said it would be incorporating a brake override system on new cars to resolve braking issues reported by drivers.

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2010-03-30

Post Office

The Government today announced a major expansion of the financial services offered by the Post Office in a move to make the 11,500-strong branch network "more sustainable".

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, said: "The Post Office is a well-loved community institution and this move will bring more banking services back to the heart of those communities".

However, Which?, the consumer group, cautioned that The Post Office's savings products are offered in partnership with the Bank of Ireland, and are therefore not covered by the British Government's savings guarantee.

Dominic Lindley, of Which?, said: "We welcome much of the expansion, but cannot recommend Post Office products as Best Buys while customers must risk their money on a foreign government's compensation scheme."

The measures, backed by £180 million of new funding, will include the launches of new savings and current accounts aimed at people on low incomes, as well as a 90 per cent loan-to-value mortgage for first-time buyers.

The most innovative of the new accounts will be a Savings Gateway account for people of working age on low incomes. The Government will pay in 50p for every £1 saved – "to kick-start the savings habit".

Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, said: "Paying bills by direct debit often means a discount on bills of nearly £100 a year. This new account will mean some of the consumers who have to pay higher bills will be able to benefit from that discount."

The Post Office is also in "detailed negotiations" with RBS and Santander to give access to their current accounts. It says that this would mean that 86 per cent of UK current accounts would be accessible in branches.

Further plans include a partnership with credit unions to create a "national distribution network" for their loans and other products in Post Office branches to increase access to affordable credit.

The Irish deposit guarantee scheme, which applies to Post Office savings products, covers all deposits in qualifying accounts up to September, and the first €100,000 (£90,000) thereafter.

The British scheme, which does not back Post Office products, covers the first £50,000.

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2010-03-29

Wind Turbines

A new offshore wind turbine facility will be built in the UK creating 700 new jobs, it has been announced.

An offshore wind farm already exists in the River Mersey in Liverpool

The German manufacturer Siemens said it is planning the £80m development so it can meet its future demand.

President and chief executive Peter Loscher said: "With the new wind turbine production plant in the UK we're pushing ahead with our strategy of investments in attractive growth markets for eco-friendly technology.

"In the foreseeable future the wind power market in the UK will be characterised by major offshore projects, and we'll extend our market leadership with the new production plant."

The firm said it is exploring sites on the east coast and north east of England and is working with regional development agencies.

The agreement follows months of talks with the Government and the announcement in last week's Budget of £60m of new investment in wind power.

Siemens CEO Peter Loscher and Gordon Brown

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the deal was "more proof that we're exploiting the great natural resource that we have and creating the right conditions to attract investment".

"Siemens' investment will help create jobs and help us meet our renewable energy targets," he added.

The company has established a new energy sector training centre in Newcastle upon Tyne and has located a "centre of competence" for offshore grid connections in Manchester.

Siemens has also established research and development centres for wind power at Keele and Sheffield universities.

Last week US energy giant General Electric announced a similar initiative in Britain, with investment of £100m, creating 2,000 jobs.

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2010-03-23

Halfords Profits

Midland retailer Halfords is set to post a pre-tax profit of up to £116 million – ahead of forecasts – after being boosted by demand for car parts during recent bad weather.

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, the Redditch-based group also announced it would close its loss-making shops in central Europe.

The car parts to bicycles chain said pre-tax profits were on course to be above analysts’ average forecast of £112.7 million.

Sales at shops in the UK and Ireland open at least a year were up 0.8 percent in the 11 weeks ended March 19, with a 13 percent jump in sales of car maintenance products and services offsetting a weaker performance in bicycles and leisure sales.

Halfords, which last month bought Midland car servicing firm Nationwide Autocentres, also said it would close its seven loss-making stores in the Czech Republic and Poland to focus on its growth opportunities at home.

The stores made an operating loss of £2.8 million over the last 12 months, the group said, adding the closure would lead to an exceptional charge of £7.9 million.

“The continuing recession (in central Europe) is severely limiting the property opportunity to move the operation to a viable scale,” chief executive David Wild explained.

“While an international strategy clearly represents an opportunity for future growth, the board has decided that management and financial resource is better devoted, at the present time, to the lower-risk return opportunities in our core market.”

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2010-03-17

Spanair

Birmingham Airport has pulled off a major coup by attracting one of Spain’s biggest airlines.

Spanair will launch its first scheduled UK operation with flights to Barcelona and Madrid in May.

Birmingham’s previous Madrid service ceased in 2008 and the current Barcelona service offered by bmibaby will be withdrawn on June 7.

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport’s chief executive officer, said: “From May we will provide the only direct Madrid service south of Liverpool and north of Watford Gap and with the excellent road and rail access to Birmingham it’s a no brainer for people wanting to reach Spain’s capital city from this stretch of the country.

“We are obviously delighted too with the news that Barcelona will continue to be available for our passengers once the current service stops in June.

“Although it’s not clear if news like this is the early signs of the economy recovering, it certainly demonstrates that the industry has confidence in Birmingham so we are delighted to have been chosen as the first airport in the UK where Spanair will start operating scheduled flights.”

The Barcelona flights will operate four times per week, each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday starting on May 20.

Madrid flights will operate three times a week each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from May 25.

Timings have been scheduled to meet business and leisure travellers’ needs and both destinations will be served all year round.

The airline is so confident of the success of its Birmingham operation that it will be operating an Airbus A320 aircraft with 168 seats, with both business and economy seats available.

It will also offer onward flights on its vast network across Spain and North Africa.

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2010-03-09

Table Art

A Warwickshire business will feature in a new TV series called The Business Inspector on terrestrial station Five.

Table Art will feature on the four-part series, which will raise awareness among small businesses that they need to keep good records.

Gary Martin, of Zap Events Hire, incorporating Table Art, said presenter Hilary Devey helped the company.

He said: “Hilary is a tough cookie but really knows her stuff. Thanks to her we are on the road to recovery. Her advice on marketing and how to set up a franchise for the Table Art side of our business was invaluable.”

The new programme has been sponsored by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). On the show firms will be urged to set up a reliable system for keeping full and accurate records of your income and expenses from the outset

Ms Devey said: “When I first met Gary he was doing OK but was lacking commercialism and direction. He has tonnes of enthusiasm and was unsure how to take the next step.

"I advised him on branding, marketing franchising. I also emphasised the importance of keeping detailed records and paying his taxes and VAT on time. Gary has created a great concept with Table Art and with the correct Franchise agreement in place his business will thrive.”

Stephen Banyard, Business Customer Unit Director at HMRC, said: “Zap Events Hire got real help and advice - including the need for effective record keeping, marketing and how to set up a franchise for their business Table Art - from Hilary.

“Keeping good records makes good business sense as it gives small businesses the information they need to manage their business and help it grow. It also makes filling in tax returns easier and helps SMEs pay the right amount of tax.”

The Business Inspector will be broadcast weekly on Five, from March 17, at 8pm.

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2010-03-03

CSI @ Bullring

The Bullring has two new additions arrive at the shopping centre – the first Created In Birmingham shop and the only CSI: The Experience exhibition in the UK.

Located on the Upper West Mall, the Created In Birmingham shop is the first to be opened by the popular Birmingham artistic and creative blog and offers an area for the local community to display their work.

Having worked together during the launch of Bullring’s Art Project, Created In Birmingham chose Bullring as the location for its first shop.

The transgression from web-based blog to a fully functioning shop will offer a new experience for Bullring’s shoppers providing them with an environment to view and purchase local artwork and browse some of Birmingham’s designers’ products.  

Louise Hamer-Brown, marketing controller at Bullring, said: “Following the launch of the Bullring Art Project in January we’ve been asking the local community to get involved by uploading images, videos, artwork and photography that makes them feel happy to www.lifefeelsbetter.co.uk so we’re thrilled to welcome Created in Birmingham to the centre.”

Last week also saw the opening of CSI: The Experience on the Middle West Mall.

As the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, visitors are able to use some of the very latest forensic technology to solve three individual crime scenes and will walk away with their very own crime-solving diploma should they crack the case.

Anyone who uploads content to the lifefeelsbetter.co.uk may see their work exhibited at the Bullring as it showcases work in a variety of exhibitions during 2010.

For more information on Created in Birmingham, visit www.createdinbirmingham.com. More information on CSI: The Experience is at www.csibirmingham.com.

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