The week in brief: 29 November
Potential rescue for Free Record Shop and Delhaize opens the country's first drive-through supermarket
An overview of the week's news
The British investment group Hilco, seen as a potential rescuer of the bankrupt Free Record Shop (FRS) chain, has been given until the end of December to operate the stores, administrators said, to allow the group to get to know the business before deciding whether or not to go ahead with a takeover. Hilco will take over the stock and can also deliver new stock of its own to the 68 stores in Belgium. Meanwhile, FRS stores have refused to honour gift vouchers bought before the chain went bankrupt. The stores remain open for purchases by other means.
The University of Ghent has established the Marleen Temmerman Fund, in honour of the former senator and professor of gynaecology who now heads the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organisation. The fund will support the work of the university’s International Centre for Reproductive Health, which Temmerman helped establish in 1994. Temmerman herself earmarked three initial projects for the new fund: post-natal care in Kenya, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Malawi; internships for African researchers; and research on sexual violence in Kenya.
Belgacom has engaged the services of international headhunters Russell Reynolds to find a replacement for Didier Bellens, the former CEO who was let go earlier this month. Russell Reynolds is a US company with offices in most European capitals as well as India, the Far East and Australia. Belgacom is currently being run by CFO Ray Stewart.
Transport users’ group TreinTramBus (TTB) has called on the NMBS to scrap the supplement paid by passengers using the new Diabolo rail link to Brussels Airport. The supplement – €4.44 now and rising to €5 next year – has to be paid regardless of distance, which means passengers from nearby cities, like Leuven, Mechelen and Brussels, pay more for the supplement than for the basic ticket. According to TTB, the charge is being increased because of the disappointing number of Diabolo passengers. The link, a public-private partnership, cost €678 million to construct.
Clothing chain JBC, based in Houthalen, Limburg province, has been voted best Belgian retail chain of the year in an online poll organised by Q&A Research and Consultancy. Customers were able to fill in a questionnaire and gave JBC a vote of eight out of 10, compared to the average of 7.83. Some 260,000 people took part, rating retail outlets on criteria such as value for money, prices and special offers, as well as informed and customer-friendly personnel. JBC also won in the categories of children's and men’s fashion.
About 30 police zones in Flanders have concrete plans to install ANPR cameras for automatic number plate recognition, mobility minister Hilde Crevits said. The cameras, which cost €50,000 each, are used mainly for speed control but can also be used to track suspect vehicles or determine if the car in question has paid insurance or road tax. The privacy commission has warned that not all potential uses are legal and accused police of “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
The number of senior officers in the federal police will be cut from 84 to 31, with administrations slimmed down to allow more police on the street, under a reform plan agreed by the federal government last week. The number of executive officers of the rank of commissioner-general or director-general will be reduced, cutting the entire administrative cadre by 63%. The head of the force, Catherine De Bolle, will remain in operational charge, but will hand over certain organisational functions.
An Ostend student suspected of trying to poison his teacher by putting white spirit in his water bottle was held overnight and has been released while police investigate the incident. The substitution was noticed by another student, and the teacher did not drink the white spirit, which can be extremely dangerous if ingested. The student concerned denies involvement.
The Flemish housing ministry has made it easier for people to qualify for rent subsidies. In the past, those waiting for social housing were paid the subsidy after five years, but the waiting time has now been reduced to four years. The new measure is expected to help some 4,000 families pay for suitable housing in the private sector.
An increasing number of young people with Turkish roots want to leave Flanders and return to the native country of their parents, according to a study by sociologists at the University of Antwerp. The phenomenon is being seen especially among well-educated Turkish 20-somethings because of a persistent discrimination on the labour market. the researchers warn of a “brain drain”. However, several interview subjects mentioned that the transition to living in Turkey was much more difficult than expected.