Final Bulletin (December 2018)

Ticket to ride

Many non-EU countries and the UK will face charges of €7 to travel to EU countries following Brexit. The European Commission have confirmed that travellers from the UK will not require a visa, although they will be required to purchase and apply for other documents in order to complete their journeys. The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, ETIAS for short, will come into effect in 2021.

Currently, anyone travelling from a non-EU country needs to apply for a visa to travel to Europe. However, many countries are excluded from this requirement including the United States, Japan and Australia. A total of 61 countries are named within the exemption list. Even so, rules apply to the length of a visitor’s stay within the EU’s ‘Schengen’ zone, the area where nationals from these countries can travel without the need of border checks up to a 90 day period.

The EU Commission have recognised that tighter restrictions and regulations will be needed in the future due to the migrant crisis, in addition to concerns with security and terrorism so their introduction of ETIAS will aid monitoring of anyone who enters the EU.

Once Brexit has completed, EU citizens and UK nationals will still be able to travel through and around Europe with their current passports and identity papers until the end of 2020. Once this deadline has passed, the European Commission have offered that any UK national wishing to visit the EU can do so for short stays, but only if the UK government offer EU nationals the same passage. Whatever is decided, UK nationals will still require an ETIAS document in order to legitimately travel in the Eurozone.

The ETIAS document will take no more than 10 minutes to complete, and anybody from the ages of 18 to 70 will be required to pay the corresponding ETIAS fee. Information required will include passport details, any ongoing medical conditions, as well as information regarding any criminal records.

Passports held by UK nationals will go back to their original blue in colour without the EU reference mark.  All applicants will be notified of their ETIAS application within minutes of applying according to the EU Commission. They have also advised that 95% of all applications will automatically be approved. However, applications can be denied or have a 4 week approval process depending upon circumstances. Once an application has been approved, an applicant’s ETIAS document will lasts for a period of three years and allow unlimited entry into the EU. Each time a holder of the ETIAS travels across the border, the document will be checked by border officials.

Currently, the UK border officials allow visa-free entry to travellers from 56 countries across the globe. Nationals from these countries are given permission to stay for a maximum of 6 months in the UK – what it doesn’t do is to give them permission to work, study or settle.

Should the proposals be accepted, the UK could witness many British citizens seeking Irish passports due to the Republic of Ireland remaining within the EU, because Irish citizens do not require special permission to travel. Many UK citizens have Irish links, so, if grandparents or parents were born in Ireland, some UK citizens have a right to apply for an Irish passport should they wish. Earlier this year, the Irish passport application rate increased significantly.

Sainsburys and ASDA merger concerns

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) were ordered to give Sainsburys and Asda’s legal team extra time, in order to complete their bid for a £7.3 billion merger. Both the supermarket giants had requested that they required an additional 11 working days throughout the Christmas period to respond to the CMA. That deadline finally given was in fact the 21st December 2018. The original extension requested by the supermarkets was 4th January 2019.

The court had requested that the CMA set their own time scales, which meant that the original extended date of the 21st December would not be required. The CMA have continued investigations to complete prior to the expected merger in relation to prices rises and the effects on factors such as customer service following any future deal.

In-depth investigations have continued to take place since the proposed merger was announced during the summer.

The CMA have raised concerns that should the merger take place, it could affect competition within the superstore/market sectors.  Should the merger become successful, it would tie the largest supermarket chain in the UK by market share, meaning that it would leapfrog its way over Tesco, currently the market leader. The proposed new merger would become the proprietors of approximately 3,000 stores across the UK, with annuals sales reaching an excess of £50 billion.

An initial investigation in September 2018 identified a “realistic prospect of significant lessening of competition” across the UK in 463 locations. These are where the catchment areas of local supermarkets overlapped each other.

Customers all fired up over boiler insurance

British Gas customers have faced charges of up to 3 times more than new customers for boiler insurance according to recent reports. Renewal letters have been sent to existing customers, with prices of up to £841 for their annual cover.

Customers have been furious with theses new figures, venting their anger and frustrations via social media platform Twitter. Tweets have included questions directed at British Gas about the prices to renew their cover for Homecare products, and the difference prices for new customers. British Gas have also received backlash for their lack of telephone support.

One British Gas customer, tweeted “Why are you charging me to renew my Homecare product with you £318 more than a new customer. Disgraceful. I am trying to talk to someone but have been waiting on the phone for 15 minutes.” After eventually speaking to a representative and airing frustrations publicly, this customer successfully negotiated a renewal price that they were happy to pay, one that was even cheaper than the price that they had paid the previous year.

A spokesperson from British Gas said of the recent price hikes: “In line with standard practice across the services insurance market our introductory prices for new customers are non-risk based, the initial offer valid for the first-year provides customers with the opportunity to try the product at a reduced price while British Gas can evaluate the risk of cover for the individual”…“At renewal, the prices are determined by the level of risk. This takes into account a number of factors to ensure that all customers are paying a fair price.”

Managing Director of Home Products and Services at Which?, Alex Neill believes that consumers should consider searching for better deals within the market. Many deals are on offer, and customers may find that they benefit from the changes that could be made. Many deals include annual servicing as well as saving costs on repairs instead of boiler cover.

British Gas claim that all of the insurance products that they offer include features such as unlimited call outs as well as access to a 24-hour helpline. Yet these products seem to be offered at a cost – there have also been reports that some customers are being left without heating, with long waiting times for repairs.

Recent investigations revealed that one customer had been without hot water or heating for nine days, as well as some families with young children waiting for repairs to their boilers to be completed.  British Gas are renowned for offering the most expensive boiler repair insurance products available on the current market, with their HomeCare products starting off with basic boiler cover for £132 for the year, compared to EDF Energy’s basic boiler insurance which costs just £58.80 a year, £49.40 a year for SSE, while 24/7 Home Rescue offer a similar service at £69.00 for the year.

To get the best price and the best cover for you, Which? strongly recommends that consumers need to shop around for the best options and best deals to suit their needs, whilst ensuring the terms and conditions apply to the deal offered.

Ashley loan offer turned down by Debenhams

According to the Daily Telegraph, Debenhams have snubbed businessman Mike Ashley’s £40 million loan offer to bail out the struggling department store from potential financial ruin, following what has been reported as their worst November “in living memory”.

The Sports Direct boss already owns a 30% stake in Debenhams, and Ashley has been said that he is “extremely frustrated”, following the offer being rejected by the board of Directors at Debenhams. Ashley believes that the board does not understand Debenhams’ current position on the high street, nor do they understand the responsibility that they have to their shareholders.

Sports Direct were reported to have seen a 27% fall in their half-yearly profits, in part accountable by it’s part in the rescue of department store chain House of Fraser earlier this year. Sports Direct shares fell by nearly 15%, while Debenhams shares fell by a further 5% following the rejection of the offer.

A Debenhams insider commented, “We welcome Sports Direct’s proposal as a clear demonstration of their willingness to support the company, however, as the offer came with conditions that could affect the interests of other stakeholders, while the board does not think it could accept the proposal, as presented, it has invited Sports Direct to engage as part of our broader refinancing process.”

Ashley’s original offer drew attention to the difficulties that Debenhams had recently encountered with suppliers and credit insurance, speculating that the company had no chance of survival. “What we are offering is a very public statement of support at a critical time for the Debenhams business, if I’m sounding extremely frustrated – well I am. We’ve seen this before, with Blacks and House of Fraser, they didn’t want any help either. We don’t want to see Debenhams fail.”

Debenhams reported losses of £492 million back in October 2018, as reported back in our September bulletin, the largest ever loss in its trading history. However, despite of these losses, Debenhams bosses have plans to secure the future of Debenhams with the announcement of up to 50 stores closing across the UK.

Half-yearly reports, published last week showed Sports Direct’s pre-tax profits falling to £64 million, compared to £88 million last year, with House of Fraser accountable for £31.5 million of that loss since the August takeover, even with a £70 million cash injection from Sports Direct into the chain.

Ashley announced that “significant challenges were ahead”, and that fortunes would turn around in the future.

Starjammer Bulletin: 2013 to 2018

This is a sad day for us. We here in the office have enjoyed bringing you the Bulletin over the last few years. A part-time venture among the office staff, it has given all of its contributors since its early days as the Starjammer Group Times as a way of reaching our customers and associates, in a way that we hadn’t foreseen being so successful.

But times are changing. While Starjammer itself has been enjoying its success, the Bulletin has had to acknowledge the forces and challenges of a changing world. From the rise of fake news, and the need to demonstrate due diligence in reporting stories, down to the policing and cost of images for publication; all have had a contributing effect on the final decision by management to close the Bulletin down, as it is sadly no longer considered to be cost effective.

When we first started bring our readers news and articles, the first PDF was merely sixteen pages. Initially a bi-monthly offering, we quickly realised its potential for advertising and engaging with both existing and new customers as well as the world at large.

During the last five years, we have witnessed the rise of Cryptocurrency, watched social media use go through the roof to the point of mass addiction, Artificial Intelligence finally becoming a household norm with the rise of smart devices and the Internet of Things. We have seen a man put a car into space for the hell of it, cannabis slowly being legalised. And then there’s Donald Trump.

We joke about fake news, but the truth is that some of the headlines we have witnessed over the past five years that you wouldn’t have believed back then are now indeed reality. The changes that we will probably see in the next five years can only be guessed at. Back in December 2015, when the Bulletin finally became the form in which you read it now, we ran a two-part article called ‘2020 Vision’, about what the future held. We pretty much got it spot on.

“We may also see the demise of the keyboard and mouse. Already, computers and phones can be locked with our biometric data (the shape of our faces, voice or fingerprints). Soon, they may be our familiars, electronic super servants, the Personal Data Assistant reborn as a multimedia self-selective and referencing interface. You would talk to your machine, much like people talk to their phones through the Siri interface now. Except the quality of interaction may surpass it by a wide margin”.

Alexa, Google Assistant…these things have become part of the everyday fabric of life – three years earlier than we predicted. Electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace, alternative energy is taking over from the old tried and tested forms of electricity generation, and there is the possibility that there may be an orbital attempt at going back to the Moon some time in 2019. As for space tourism? Spaceship Two, the Virgin Galactic commercial craft made its successful sub-orbital flight a fortnight ago.

The Starjammer Bulletin is going to remain online as a resource for the next couple of years, as we are proud of the work we have done over the last half-decade. Considering this was originally supposed to be a backroom exercise for our customers, we haven’t done badly at all.

While we’re sad that it comes to a close today, we’re going to raise a glass to you, our readers. Your feedback and continued support has made our job writing and editing the Bulletin such a joy, and we’re glad that we’re closing it down while we’re still at the top of our game. May we wish you all a successful 2019 and beyond.

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Business News (November 2018)

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The Starjammer Bulletin is the official newsletter for The Starjammer Group, its customers, clients, affiliates and subscribers. With over ten years under our belt, we are proud of our commitment to our clients, and of our assurance that we provide them with the best level of service and help that they have come to know and respect us for. The Starjammer Group is proud of its track record to date, and strives to improve its products, services and standing on all fronts. Our mantra has always been '21st century thinking'. Why? Simple: we love doing what we do, enjoy our work, and work on the principle that our customers, clients and associates should share in the fun. Business shouldn't be a chore: we spend on average 8 hours per working day in the office, or factory, behind a desk, stall or wheel. We employ people who are not only competent and good at their job, but people who have that something; that little spark that grabs our attention. It can't be defined, and it's not always obvious. Nethertheless, we have been lucky to attract and keep the right people. Something we are proud of.