Month: January 2015

Plantation Shutters – Improving your Home

Plantation Shutters – Improving your Home

Plantation Shutters – Improving your Home
One of the seemingly never-ending responsibilities of any homeowner is maintaining the home in good condition and making meaningful improvements which keep the home as well-appointed as others in the area and increase its appeal among eventual buyers should the home ever be put on the market. Compared to other home improvement projects, adding plantation shutters is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve the look of your home both from inside and from the street.

Whether you’re thinking of selling your home in the near future or you simply want to beautify your home without taking on an arduous and costly home improvement project, plantation shutters are an excellent way to go.

Plantation shutters are an easy way to beautify your home by adding depth and texture that goes beyond the typical window dressing that does little more than cover the area over the windows where the blinds are hung. Before deciding on which shutters will work best for your windows, though, it is worthwhile to learn more about the different types of plantation shutters that are available; you may very well find that different types of plantation shutters are better suited to different windows within your home.

 Tier-on-tier and café-style shutters
Although virtually all plantation shutters offer the advantages of style, beauty and elegance as well as increased privacy and energy efficiency, homeowners should consider the specific function of plantation shutters within each room of their home before making a selection. If your home is in a busy urban setting, you have probably noticed that with conventional blinds, you are often faced with having to either keep them shut after dark or allow the world to see into your home.

Likewise, during the day you might prefer to keep the lower half of your window covered but still allow some light into your home. You don’t have this option with conventional blinds, but with tier-on-tier and café-style plantation shutters you do.  The upper and lower halves of tier-on-tier shutters can be opened and closed independently of one another, and café-style shutters cover the bottom half of the window only, maintaining privacy while allowing ample light into the room.

Full-height and solid-style shutters
If you live in one of the northerly latitudes or at a windy beachside location, you might consider solid-style shutters for some rooms. Although an all-or-nothing proposition in terms of light, they are the most effective at blocking draughts and are just as useful as blackout curtains when it comes to keeping light out so that one can enjoy a good night’s sleep well past sunrise. For those who prefer the option of opening the louvers to admit light, full-height plantation shutters are an excellent choice, as they cover the window from top to bottom while allowing you to control the amount of light coming in.

The Beautiful Shutter Company is fast becoming one of the leading producers of bespoke plantation shutters in the North East of England. With our years of experience and dedication to providing each customer with the exact shutters to suit their needs, we are certain that you will enjoy the shutters you order from us for as long as you live in your home.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us today on 01642 688049 or visit the Beautiful Shutter Company website today.

Business:             The Beautiful Shutter Company


Style Coaching – Promoting Confidence &Change

Style Coaching – Promoting Confidence &Change

Style Coaching – Promoting Confidence &Change
Hi there – My name is Jacqueline Macaulay and I have been a Style Coach™ since 2010.  I am based in Hexham, Northumberland and have lived here for six years now with my two kids and husband.  My background was in the Financial Sector in Edinburgh and in 2009, I retrained as a Style Coach™ which fitted in with my lifestyle changes and brought out my creative side!   Style Coaching™ is a unique combination of having your very own Stylist and Life Coach on hand.  Understanding the power of dress can be a life-changing and fun experience for my clients.

Nowadays it is often vital to quickly portray the right image as this is so often the first thing we’re judged on. Some surveys have shown that only about seven per cent of what we communicate is in the words we use. The remainder is made up of how we look, our tone of voice and our body language.

Life coaching can be effective in many situations, for example in helping a person’s career direction and development, or for personal fulfilment or life change more generally. Many people let their confidence hold them back and stop them from aiming for that promotion or achieving the ambitions they once had. For those who feel they lack the confidence to help take themselves to the next step ‘Style Coaching’ works to develop your feelings of wanting to improve or alter how you look and feel about yourself.

What is Style Coaching™?


Identifying your personal style and giving you the tools to increase your confidence levels: At work (or preparing for an interview), day-to-day OR for that extra special event; it’s all within your reach:

  • Advice on properly fitting clothes to enhance and flatter your body shape, and to suit your budget, lifestyle and personality.
  • Helping you to add colour and interest to your wardrobe thereby enhancing your most prominent, natural features: your eyes, hair and skin tone.
  • Also, through personal shopping, helping you to cut through the vast array of ‘this season must-haves’ by cherry picking garments/accessories that will keep you on trend and within your budget!


Understanding ‘What’s good about You’ and how to cherish and love yourself for what you are is fundamental to any change.  By creating a step-by-step personalised Style Coaching™ programme, I provide advice and support in seeing you through this transition for lasting change via written exercises and visualisation techniques: breaking out of the negative body image cycle (which affects everyone at some point in their lives) and focusing on the positive aspects of your appearance.

Just think how you can use a style coach to help increase your confidence levels, improving your appearance, sharpen presentation skill and much more. How great would it feel to open your wardrobe and instantly choose a ready to wear outfit, with accessories to hand, for every occasion life throws at you…? Through working with your Style Coach™, you can get the lasting results you want and within your budget.

Contact Jacqueline Macaulay now on 07789 961068 and let her work with you to design a plan to help you improve your life. For further information please visit the JMac Style Coaching website.

Business:             JMac Style Coaching


House Price Growth Continues to Slow, says Nationwide Bank

House Price Growth Continues to Slow, says Nationwide Bank

House Price Growth Continues to Slow, says Nationwide Bank
The annual pace of house price growth has slowed again, according to the UK’s second biggest mortgage lender. The Nationwide said house price inflation fell to 6.8% in December, down from 7.2% in December. It said the reasons for the slowdown in housing market activity “remain unclear”, as the economic background has continued to improve.

Monthly house prices rose by 0.3% in January, taking the average house price up to £188,446.

This means that average house prices have been at a plateau since June last year.

“Annual house price growth continued to soften at the start of 2015,” said Nationwide’s chief economist, Robert Gardner. He said the number of mortgages approved for house purchase had been about 20% below the level prevailing at the start of 2014 and surveyors continued to report subdued levels of new buyer enquiries.

The Nationwide’s survey chimes with the latest data from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), whose monthly figures for the whole of the UK show that sales eased off in the last few months of last year.

One explanation for the cooling of the property market is that its recent peak in late 2013 and early 2014 was temporarily stimulated by government initiatives such as the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) and Help to Buy.

Some of the pent up demand from earlier years, when obtaining a mortgage was very difficult in the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis, may now have been partly exhausted. And the renewed increase in prices of the past few years, which has vastly outstripped the growth of earnings, has again pushed homes beyond the grasp of many would-be buyers.

But Mr Gardner was optimistic that sales would soon pick up again. “If the economic backdrop continues to improve as we and most forecasters expect, activity in the housing market is likely to regain momentum in the months ahead,” he said. “It is encouraging that the number of new homes built in England was up 8% in the year to the third quarter of 2014.”

Eurozone Needs to Share Risks, warns Bank of England Governor Mark Carney

Eurozone Needs to Share Risks, warns Bank of England Governor Mark Carney

Eurozone Needs to Share Risks, warns Bank of England Governor Mark Carney
Bank of England governor Mark Carney has warned the current structure of the eurozone puts it in an “odd position”.

Mr Carney said sharing a currency without also sharing decisions on taxes and spending did not work. “For complete solutions to current and potential future problems the sharing of fiscal risks is required,” he told an audience in Dublin, Ireland.

Currently, EU members share the euro currency, but decisions on spending are made at a national level.

Mr Carney said “it is no coincidence” that effective currency unions tended to have centralised fiscal authorities. “European monetary union will not be complete until it builds mechanisms to share fiscal sovereignty,” he said.

He said the current system in the eurozone made it stand out from federal countries like the US, Canada and Germany, where a central government has the ability to transfer significant financial resources to constituent states as-and-when those states run into severe difficulties. “Without this risk sharing, the euro area finds itself in an odd position,” he added.

The speech comes just days after after the European Central Bank said that it would inject at least €1.1 trillion (£834bn) into the ailing eurozone economy, in a bid to encourage spending.

Mr Carney said the ECB’s actions were “timely and welcome”, but warned the “ECB alone cannot eliminate the risks of a prolonged stagnation”. “Europe needs a comprehensive, coherent plan to anchor expectations, build confidence and escape its debt trap. That plan begins but does not end with the monetary policy boldness of the ECB,” he added.

He also acknowledged that Europe’s leaders did not currently foresee fiscal union as a part of monetary union. “Such timidity has costs,” he concluded.

Euro Finance Chief Warns Greece about Debt Write Off

Euro Finance Chief Warns Greece about Debt Write Off

Euro Finance Chief Warns Greece about Debt Write Off
Greece’s new government will find little support among eurozone policymakers for a debt write-off, a senior finance chief has said. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, said Greece must “stick to the rules”. Speaking before a Eurogroup meeting on Monday, he said; “There is very little support for a write off in Europe.”

It followed anti-austerity party Syriza’s election win, which initially sparked big falls on financial markets.

The euro earlier fell to an 11-year low against the dollar, while the Athens stock market fell more than 5%. The markets had recovered by mid-morning, with the main share indexes in London, Paris and Frankfurt also reversing earlier falls on hopes that a compromise over Greece’s bailout terms might be found.

Syriza wants to renegotiate the €240bn bailout and slow austerity cuts.

But the party’s leader Alexis Tsipras helped calm investors’ nerves when he said in a speech that he wanted negotiation, not confrontation, with Greece’s international lenders. “The new Greek government will be ready to co-operate and negotiate for the first time with our peers a just, mutually beneficial and viable solution,” Mr Tsipras said.

The troika of lenders that bailed out Greece – the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund – imposed big budgetary cuts and restructuring in return for the money. But Mr Tsipras said: “The troika for Greece is the thing of the past.”

However, Mr Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and chairman of the Eurogroup, told reporters on arriving in Brussels for a meeting of finance ministers: “The most important thing is that if you remain in the eurozone you stick to the rules we have. That’s true for all countries.

“There has been a lot of easing of the debt already. In the coming years the interest for Greece will be very low. They get a lot of time to pay back loans so the question is whether more has to be done there,” he said.

The euro briefly fell as low as $1.1088, the lowest level against the dollar in more than 11 years, but in mid-morning trading was 0.4% higher at $1.125.
The euro had already been under pressure following last week’s announcement of a new stimulus programme by the European Central Bank.

Yields on Greece’s 10-year government bonds rose 19 basis points to 8.95%, but are still below the level before last week’s ECB stimulus programme was announced. However, yields on three-year bonds rose much more sharply, up 68 points to 10.89%. The rise reflects investors’ concerns about short-term risks of a debt restructuring over the coming months.

Greece’s current bailout programme ends in February, and economists say a short-term deal will be negotiated, although difficult talks lie ahead. Germany has indicated that it is not prepared to renegotiate the bailout terms, raising the prospect that Greece could end up leaving the eurozone. “There is a danger of a prolonged stand-off with the troika as Syriza attempts to negotiate some form of official debt restructuring while not reneging on its promises to voters to cut taxes, raise government spending and increase the minimum wage,” said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said: “Tsipras’s comments don’t appear to leave any room for doubt as he stated that the troika and the bailouts belong to the past. “You can be almost certain that these negotiations will be watched carefully by the anti-austerity movements in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France to see what measures if any Greece is able to get out of EU politicians to deal with the problem of Greece’s debt, and the terms of the bailout programme.”

The UK Chancellor, George Osborne, urged all sides to “act responsibly” in any forthcoming negotiations over Greece’s bailout terms. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he understood why, with the Greek economy in trouble, voters were “looking for other answers”. But he warned that Syriza’s election promises to spend more on public services and slow the pace of cuts were unlikely to work. “If you take at face value all the things that the new Greek government has promised, including big increases in public expenditure, I think that will be very difficult to deliver,” he said.

Tax Crackdown by HMRC Nets 60% More Money

Tax Crackdown by HMRC Nets 60% More Money

Tax Crackdown by HMRC Nets 60% More Money
A crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion by people who HM Revenue & Customs call “mass affluent” netted 60% more money in 2014, a report says. HMRC’s Affluent Unit covering UK residents on annual incomes over £150,000 – or wealth over £1m – raised £137.2m in tax, up from £85.7m in 2013. The report was written by law firm Pinsent Masons, using data from HMRC.

HMRC poster on tax avoidance

Critics said the unit, which works with HMRC’s High Net Worth team covering the super-rich, could collect much more.

The Affluent Unit, set up in 2011, doubled in size in 2013 with the recruitment of an additional 100 tax inspectors. About 500,000 UK residents fall into its remit.

“This surge in extra revenue from Affluent Unit tax investigations serves as a reminder that HMRC is widening its lines of inquiry,” said Pinsent Mason’s head of litigation and compliance James Bullock. “People who would just consider themselves moderately successful professionals and business people are now also coming under the scrutiny of HMRC’s specialist units,” he said.

He added that the tax office had been given new powers to pursue tax avoidance in what looked like “a much more aggressive approach to prosecutions targeted at professionals and entrepreneurs”.

HMRC’s ability to investigate people has been made easier by a computer system called Connect. Costing £45m, Connect was launched in the summer of 2010 and designed by the defence contractor BAE Systems. The computer system collects data on people from multiple sources, including banks, local councils, and even social media.

Treasury minister David Gauke said that the jump in extra tax being collected shows that the Affluent Unit was “a success… We are determined to give HMRC the powers and support that they need”.

He said there was a change in the public mood towards tax avoidance and evasion. “The public expect people to pay the right amount of tax under the law to help fund our services.” He added: “HMRC are winning a lot of their court cases, and we are seeing that a lot of people are preparing to pay up rather than litigate for years.”

However, tax expert Richard Murphy, from Tax Research, said: “HMRC is supposed to collect £167bn of income tax this year, of which at least a quarter will be from the top 1% of income earners.

“In that case, to collect just £127m as a result of investigations into this group when the official tax gap is £35bn suggests that much less attention is given to them than any other group.” He added: “The investigation success rate is way below anything that could be expected given that we know tax avoidance is mainly undertaken by the wealthiest. “If these statistics prove anything it is that HMRC need many more resources to collect tax from those most likely to owe it.”

Last year, the Treasury unveiled controversial plans to give HMRC the ability to withdraw outstanding tax directly from people’s bank accounts. Following opposition, it was agreed that tax inspectors would hold a face-to-face meeting with taxpayers before any money is taken.

The Direct Recovery of Debt plans are due to come into force this year.

Air Tightness Testing & Consultancy Services

Air Tightness Testing & Consultancy Services

Air Tightness Testing & Consultancy Services
Air Tightness Test failures at the handover stage of a project can prove hugely costly in regards to financial and programme aspects of the development.

Successful Building Air and Sound Tests stem from an attention to detail at an early stage in the Design and Construction Processes.

We believe that by being involved at the beginning of a project we can save our clients expensive and difficult remedial works at the pre-completion stage of a project.

To help our client achieve compliance with Part L of Building Regulations, we offer the following consultancy services:

  1. Design review We will carry out a review of the buildings envelope drawings identifying any potential weak areas that may perform poorly during the air testing. We can then produce suitable details for use by the design team.
  2. Site Survey Inspection During the construction phase we can visit the site and inspect the work. A report will be produced highlighting any areas of concern or poor workmanship, that may lead to potential air testing failure.

Design Review/s for Air Tightness and Acoustic Compliance
Using our technical knowledge and design experience within the construction industry, we can quickly identify areas of the building design and specification that pose a risk to the air tightness and acoustic specification.

We check that air tight elements are fit for the intended purpose and will have the expected life span. Our operative’s expertise, skills and experience provide clients with pragmatic design solutions; to minimise the risk of the air tightness and fire enclosure test failure in the short and long term.

We have experience of auditing and advising on the correct air sealing works on all types of projects from a small enclosures – such as such as hospital intensive care units) to large distribution warehouses.

Audit reports can be prepared, providing a schedule of works, cross referenced with relevant drawing details and photographs, this allows for a quick and easy site reference for all of your site staff and sub-contractors. Site audits should be carried out at critical points during the build programme, i.e. during the main construction of the external envelope. This will ensure that any potential problems are identified prior to the installation of ceilings etc. which makes remedial works very difficult.

Site Audit Case Study – Hospital Isolation Room)
Our on-site expertise was used to good effect during a project constructing 4 isolation rooms. The contract specification included an item for the Contractor to achieve an air permeability rate under 1m³/h/m². By carrying out site audits and having a strong proactive approach with the contractor; we achieved the stringent air tightness specification. This was achieved with minimal disruption despite the air tightness target being 10x lower than the building regulations standard.

Smoke Tests to Highlight Areas of Air Leakage
Our powerful yet portable smoke testing equipment makes up part of Air Pressure Testing air test equipment. The smoke testing equipment allows for rapid visual diagnosis of air leakage paths.

As part of our standard air testing equipment we carry both hand-held and large building smoke generators. The large building smoke generators can be linked together to ensure all parts of large buildings are filled with smoke, which makes for easier diagnostics. When the building is pressurised, smoke is forced out through air leakage paths thereby providing conclusive evidence of areas requiring attention, it is essential that you have a competent person such as your Site/Project manager available to witness the smoke test, so the site team has an understanding of the project/s air leakage paths and can start the sealing works straightaway.

Whether you need a full on-going air tightness design/consultancy service or just a simple air tightness test, we have the knowledge and experience to ensure your building passes first time.

If you are unsure of the air tightness services you require, please call us on 07775 623464 or visit the APT Air Pressure Testing Website.

Business:             APT Air Pressure Testing


eBay to Cut 2,400 Jobs this Quarter

eBay to Cut 2,400 Jobs this Quarter

eBay to Cut 2,400 Jobs this Quarter
US e-commerce giant eBay is planning to cut 2,400 jobs in the first quarter, the company said on Wednesday. The move to slash about 7% of its workforce comes ahead of a plan to split from its online payment PayPal business this year.

EBay made the announcement in its fourth quarter earnings report, which had topped expectations on Wall Street. It said in a statement it wanted to refocus the businesses and ensure it was “set-up to compete and win”. The job cuts will range across its eBay Marketplaces, PayPal, and eBay Enterprise units.

The tech giant also said it has made an agreement with activist investor, Carl Icahn, to give investors a greater say in its PayPal business once it is spun off in the second half of this year.

The billionaire investor had been trying to gather support for the proposed split before the firm’s annual shareholder meeting in May last year.

EBay also announced that it was considering a sale or public offering of its enterprise unit.

Amid the business shake up, the firm forecast earnings between 68 cents and 71 cents a share in the first quarter, while revenue was expected to hit $4.35bn (£2.87bn) to $4.45bn. Both forecasts fell short of market expectations. Its profit in the fourth quarter rose to $936m on $4.9bn in revenue.
But, the company’s New York listed shares rose 2.6% in after-hours trade.

BP Boss Bob Dudley: Oil Prices Could Remain Low for up to 3 Years

BP Boss Bob Dudley: Oil Prices Could Remain Low for up to 3 Years

BP Boss Bob Dudley: Oil Prices Could Remain Low for up to 3 Years
The boss of oil giant BP Bob Dudley has said that oil prices could remain low for up to three years. He added that could send UK petrol prices below £1 per litre. He told BBC Business editor Kamal Ahmed in Davos BP was planning for low oil prices for years to come.

That is expected to lead to job losses and falling investment in the North Sea oil industry and elsewhere, curbing supply and eventually forcing the price back up.

Italian oil group Eni has said the next spike could be around $200 a barrel. Eni’s chief executive, Claudio Descalzi, said the oil industry would cut capital spending by 10-13% this year because of slumping prices. He said that would create longer-term shortages and sharp price rises in four to five years’ time, if the Opec cartel fails to cut supplies. Mr Descalzi was speaking at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

Mr Dudley said historically world oil prices have fluctuated, and sometimes have remained low for a number of years. He expects to see current low prices for at least a year, and that BP has to plan for that.

“Companies like us, at BP, we’re going to need to rebase the company based on no guarantees at all that the price will come back up,” he said. “We have go to plan on this [price] being down, and we don’t know exactly what level, but certainly a year, I think probably two and maybe three years.”

From 2010 until mid-2014, oil prices around the world were fairly stable, at around $110 a barrel. However, since June prices have more than halved. Brent crude oil is around $48 a barrel, and US crude is around $47 a barrel.

Mr Dudley said lower oil prices could mean UK petrol could fall below £1 per litre. This kind of petrol price was “not far off”, despite taxation forming a part of the fuel price. “If prices keep going down, I’m sure you will [see £1 per litre],” he added.

Sustained low oil prices are also likely to cause “stress” on oil producing countries such as Norway, Russia, Venezuela, Scotland, Nigeria and Angola, he said. “All these countries are really going to feel it,” he said. “I think Scotland is going to be under some stress because of these low oil prices,” he said.

BP has two large projects in the North Sea, including the Clair field, which have had £8bn investment over ten years, he said. “Their economics are challenged now with these new prices,” he added. “But we’re in the North Sea for the long term. We have a large workforce in Scotland. There will be activities that we needed to pare back anyway.” The fallout from “difficulties in the US” – referring to the fatal explosion at the Deep Water Horizon oil rig – were affecting the business, he said. Globally, BP and the rest of the energy industry were likely to see “significant workforce reductions,” he added.

Italian oil group Eni chief Mr Descalzi called for Opec to cut production. He said: “Opec is like the central bank for oil which must give stability to the oil prices to be able to invest in a regular way.”

Politicians, economists and industry leaders in Davos have been voicing their worries over the impact of lower prices.

Total and BHP Billiton both said on Wednesday that they would cut back on shale oil projects.

People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said low oil prices could slow down China’s development of renewable energy projects. He said: “We worry a little bit that the price signal may give disincentive for new energy types to develop and could reduce investment in new non-fossil energy,” But he added that lower prices would be good for the economy and job creation, because China was dependent on imported oil and gas.

Opec secretary general Abdullah al-Badri, also speaking at Davos, defended the group’s decision not to cut output.  He said: “Everyone tells us to cut. But I want to ask you, do we produce at higher cost or lower costs? “Let’s produce the lower cost oil first and then produce the higher cost,” “We will go back to normal very soon,” he said.

Oil prices have sunk by almost 60% since June to below $50 a barrel because of a large supply glut. The price slide accelerated after Opec decided in November not to cut production.

ECB Expected to Inject up to €1 Trillion into Euro Zone

ECB Expected to Inject up to €1 Trillion into Euro Zone

ECB Expected to Inject up to €1 Trillion into Euro Zone
The European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to announce it will inject up to €1 trillion into the ailing eurozone economy. The ECB could purchase government bonds worth up to €50bn (£38bn) per month until the end of 2016 – double the amount previously expected.

Creating new money to buy government debt, or quantitative easing (QE), should reduce the cost of borrowing.

The eurozone is flagging and the ECB is seeking ways to stimulate spending. Lowering the cost of borrowing should encourage banks to lend and eurozone businesses and consumers to spend more. It is a strategy that appears to have worked in the US, which undertook a huge programme of QE between 2008 and 2014.

The UK and Japan have also had sizeable bond-buying programmes.

Up until now, the ECB has resisted, although the bank’s president, Mario Draghi, reassured markets in July 2012 by saying he would be prepared to do whatever it took to maintain financial stability in the eurozone, nicknamed his “big bazooka” speech. Since then, the case for quantitative easing has been growing.

Earlier this month, figures showed the eurozone was suffering deflation, creating the danger that growth would stall as businesses and consumers shut their wallets, as they waited for prices to fall.

The ECB’s bond-buying programme is likely to begin in March, although the final decision over whether to start the measures will be taken at a meeting of the bank’s 25-member policy-making board on Thursday.

There remains a possibility that the German members of the board will object to the plan. They would prefer any government bonds purchased to be held by national governments, rather than centrally by the ECB. That would reduce the risk of a default by struggling peripheral countries, such as Greece and Italy, being shouldered by the richer members of the eurozone.

On Wednesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) urged Mr Draghi to pursue uncapped quantitative easing. Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the OECD, told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday: “Let Mario go as far as he can. I don’t think he should cap it. Don’t say 500bn (euros). Just say, ‘As far as we can, as far as we need it.”