Monday, 28 April 2008

Bottled water debate hits parliament

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from parliament


Hildon, the mineral water company based at Broughton in Hampshire, are raising a glass to MPs here at Westminster - after a decision not to ban bottled water from the Commons.

A campaign by the Evening Standard has led to many restaurants in London offering thirsty diners tap water instead of the bottled stuff.

It's all about saving the planet. Why drink expensive water from expensive bottles which have been driven in gas-guzzling lorries, when you can have it straight from the tap?

MPs discussed the possible change in the Commons last month. And it put Sandra Gidley, the MP for Romsey, in an awkward spot.

Her environmental credentials are second-to-none But Hildon, which supplies all the Commons' bottled water, is based in her constituency, and jobs could be on the line. Not least hers (she has a majority of just 125).

Well, after weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions, today the Commons Administration Committee - a cross-party group of MPs - today announced their historic decision.

No change. The status quo.

Some MPs are furious, saying it sends out completely the wrong message. At a time when we are all being told to reduce our carbon footprint, they are going to continue knocking back bottled water.

It's very good news for Hildon though. Over the past five years MPs have got through 850,000 litres of their still and sparkling.

Oh, and they've clocked up 77,000 miles driving it from Broughton to Westminster.

Cheers, everyone!

Mortgages - a step by step guide

Advice from Thames Valley's money-saving expert Melanie Wright on the different types of mortgages available and how to find the best one to suit you.
Fixed Rate Mortgages

As their name suggest, this type of mortgage is fixed at a set interest rate for a given period. This means that whatever happens to interest rates, your mortgage payments will remain the same during the fixed rate period. Fixed rate mortgages usually suit those on a strict budget who need to know exactly what their monthly outgoings will be.

Who they suit: Often a good option for first-time buyers who are struggling with costs. Knowing exactly what mortgage payments will cost for the first couple of years can make it much easier to budget effectively.

Capped Rate Mortgages

Capped rate mortgages get their name because there is a cap on the amount of interest you can be charged by the lender. In other words, the amount of interest you pay is guaranteed not to rise above a fixed percentage rate for a set period of time. But while rates cannot rise above a certain level, they can still fall.

Who they suit: People who can be flexible about their mortgage payments, but want the certainty of knowing they won’t go above a certain level.

Discounted Rate Mortgages

With this type of mortgage, you get a discount off the bank or building society’s standard variable rate for a set period of time. So, if your bank has a typical standard variable rate of 7.25% it might offer a discounted product which is 1% or 1.5% off this rate for two or three years. Remember however, that there is no cap on the amount of interest you can be charged which means that discounts may initially appear cheaper than capped rates, but this could quickly change if rates rise. However, if interest rates fall, your payments will drop.

Who they suit: People who are financially prepared for the fact that if rates continue to rise, their mortgage payments will too.

Tracker Mortgages

As their name suggests, tracker mortgages usually ‘track’ or follow Bank of England interest rates. Rates can either match interest rates exactly, or track them at a set percentage above or below. This type of loan can be risky if interest rates suddenly rise your payments will increase, but if they fall, then you could be on to a winner.

Who they suit: Those who think interest rates are likely to stay low for the next couple of years, and who don’t mind if their mortgage payments fluctuate over time.

Flexible Mortgages

A flexible mortgage provides the benefit of allowing borrowers to pay a lump sum off their mortgage at any time without penalty, or to take the odd repayment holiday. Because of this flexibility, these mortgages can be slightly more expensive than other deals.

Who they suit: If you anticipate that you may want to overpay on your mortgage to repay it more quickly, then a flexible mortgage could be for you. They are often attractive to those who receive large work bonuses which they want to put towards their mortgage.

Offset Mortgages

As their name suggest, offset mortgages allow you to ‘offset’ your savings against your mortgage. So, although you won’t be credited with any interest on your savings, you don’t have to pay any interest on the equivalent amount of your outstanding mortgage. This offset interest is then used to reduce the amount outstanding on the mortgage, which brings forward the date when it is totally repaid.

Who they suit: These are definitely mortgages for the long-haul and should not be contemplated unless you are fairly certain that you will be able to leave your savings more or less untouched over the mortgage term.


With a self-certification mortgage, you don’t need to show the normal proof of income, such as wage slips or accounts. You simply estimate what your income is, and, following the usual credit and electoral roll checks, the lender agrees to the mortgage. Self-certification mortgages do, however, tend to be more expensive than standard mortgages. This is generally because they are considered to be a higher risk for the lender.

Who they suit: These mortgages suit self-employed people, who can’t provide the usual three years worth of accounts required by lenders because they haven’t been self-employed for that long, or because they are paid in cash or are contract workers. They are also increasingly useful for those that get much of their income from rental or investment income, or other ‘non-traditional’ ways.

Interest Only vs. Repayment

Increasing numbers of people are opting for interest-only mortgages to help keep monthly costs down. But while this might be effective in the short term, it does mean you will end up paying much more interest in the long-term, as you aren’t reducing your mortgage debt. With an interest-only mortgage, as the name suggests, you only pay interest on the capital you owe. You must then set up a savings scheme, such as an individual savings account (Isa) which you pay into every month, so that you can repay the capital at the end of the mortgage term. With a repayment mortgage, however, you pay both the interest and the capital back each month. If you are choosing an interest-only mortgage because you are feeling over-stretched financially, then beware – if you are unable to make savings towards the capital you could face major problems later on.
Next month features producer Reshma Rumsey will be helping a family find the best savings and current accounts and have some investment tips.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Tessa Hammond: A day with ITV Local

I’m the Librarian from Thames Valley News and my usual role is controlling the amount of material stored in the news computer in Abingdon and/or researching photographic and archive material for the newsroom journalists.

I asked to come down and visit the team at ITV Local to see how they put the site together and where they get their material from.

I see the advent of online news as an exciting development in the tool-kit of regional news, allowing far more in-depth information relevant to your region, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The guided tour of the site was truly educational and, I think it presents a very impressive range of information available at the click of the mouse. The time constraints in programming can mean that a lot a great material ends up on the edit-suite floor, but ITV Local's extended packages can use more footage and so make the best use of the reporters' efforts and add significantly to the viewing experience.

For me, it’s been an underused resource until now – but that’s all changed. I can now imagine showing my teenagers where to get the latest info on the gig they want to find.

Not being incredibly “web savvy” I was please to find that I did understand most of what I was being shown. I particularly liked Mark’s introduction to TelvOS – the clothes, suitcase, taxi, analogy was perfect and I’m sure I won’t forget it!

Thank you all for a very interesting and useful day. I look forward to contributing to the site.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Phil Horby: UKIP enters Westminster

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from parliament.

UKIP are celebrating today - they have their first MP at Westminster. And I am partly responsible.

Castle Point MP Bob Spink (pictured right) left the Tory party last month, and said he would continue in the Commons as an Independent Conservative. But behind the scenes, UKIP leader and South East MEP Nigel Farage was busy wooing Mr Spink, and this morning the defection was announced at a news conference held in one of the Commons' old committee rooms.

And yes, unwittingly, I am the man who brought them together. In 2003, the House of Commons Press Gallery held a dinner to celebrate its bicentenary. I invited a group of parliamentarians, from all different parties, to celebrate with us. Among them were Messrs Farage and Spink, who, purely by chance, were seated next to each other. They’d never met before in their lives. Today Mr Farage told us that was the moment his friendship with Bob Spink began, and today, five years later, we saw the result.

It's a coup for UKIP, and really the only way they can expect to get representation at Westminster. The chances of UKIP actually winning a parliamentary seat under the first-past-the-post system are as remote as ever.

It's a different matter in the European Parliament, of course. Proportional representation means smaller parties have a much better chance of being elected. It was the Meridian region which elected the first ever UKIP MEPs in 1999, and the Meridian region which returned the largest number in 2004.

Their most high-profile MEP then was elected in the East Midlands - none other than Robert Kilroy Silk, the former Labour MP and TV presenter. His victory gave UKIP fabulous publicity at the time, although the love affair was short-lived and Kilroy Silk soon fell out with just about everyone in UKIP and ended up setting up his own political party in a blaze of publicity. He was going to transform the system with a brand new kind of honest politics, he told us all. But it didn't happen, of course. Hands up anyone who can remember what his party was even called?

It's unlikely Bob Spink will go his own way anytime soon, but UKIP's enemies - and there are lots of them - are already predicting a disastrous clash of egos between Messrs Spink and Farage.

Mr Farage seemed remarkably relaxed about everything when I spoke to him today - just delighted at last to have a UKIP presence on the Commons green benches.

And people underestimate UKIP at their peril. In the early days, they were dismissed by many critics as, at best, an irrelevance, and, at worst, an undisciplined bunch of nutters. Now they have representation in the European Parliament (where, incidentally they outnumber the UK Greens 9 - 2), the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

As for Bob Spink, he faced the inevitable question today: The people of Castle Point voted you in as a Conservative MP, so now you've changed parties, why not stand down and fight a by-election? To which he gave the inevitable response: The people of Castle Point didn't vote for the Conservative Party in 2005, they voted for Bob Spink.

Well, that's as may be. The Conservatives say you could hear the popping of champagne corks at their party HQ this morning. In other words, good riddance. And the Tories can afford to be fairly unruffled by a UKIP defection at the moment. After all, it's the economy, not Europe, which is dominating politics. Nevertheless, recent history tells us that if UKIP get, say, 1000 votes in a marginal seat in a general election, that can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The Meridian region has the most marginal seats in the country - especially in Kent and Bob Spink's Essex. To reduce the impact of UKIP at the next election, the Conservatives must do their best to neutralise Europe as an issue. UKIP's plan is the exact opposite, and Mr Farage, with his new MP Mr Spink, will be pulling out all the stops between now and polling day.

Oh, and congratulations if you remembered the name of Robert Kilroy Silk's party - Veritas!
Watch Phil Hornby's lunchtime report on Bob Spink here.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Dancing dog clowns around

Ever seen a dog twirl and dance? Well now’s your chance!

One of the UK’s leading ‘freestyle handlers’ has uploaded a funny video of one of his ‘pupils’ Disco the dog. Richard Curtis’ bizarre video appeared on YourNews after it has some good coverage on You Tube. It's certainly got people talking in the newsroom; the main point of debate being the skinny legs Disco dances around on. So nimble and fast-footed! The dog and owner certainly seem to be enjoying the boogie...

Want to share your wacky videos? Upload to YourNews.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Sangeeta Bhabra: Race for Life Diary Entry 1

I have two pairs of trainers. One is a trendy pair that I wear with my jeans when my style statement is ‘teenager’. The other pair - the pair I fear - still look brand new even though they were bought in the days of Mr Motivator. I’m not what you call ‘naturally sporty’ so when I was asked to think about taking part in the ‘Race for Life’ earlier this year - I suddenly found a sprinting ability I didn’t know I had… I couldn’t get out of that office fast enough.

Four months on - in the interests of telly and belly - I’m all signed up to take part. Adrian our planning editor is an absolute love. He said ‘Sangers you don’t have to run it… lots of women walk it too’. That was it. I now have visions of me turning into Beyonce by the Summer whilst raising money for a very good cause - the only problem is I haven’t started training yet.

I am quite grateful to Sarah from ITV Local - who came up with the idea for my first blog. Because when this goes up - my commitment to running the three miles (sounds better than 5 km) is OFFICIAL. So - the venue: Mote Park in Maidstone. The Date June the 8th.

I’ve even got a training partner who is running the race on the same day. Her name is Deborah Puxty. She is about my age, has survived bowel cancer and this is her third race. And the best thing about her - she’s a real laugh. You must watch our Rocky style warm up session - and if my star jumps don’t make you laugh (is that the correct term?) my leggings, shorts and woolly hat ensemble should make you smile.

I’ll update you soon and any advice (fashion or otherwise) gratefully received x

Friday, 11 April 2008

Council spies on family to prevent 'cheating'

Is it a case of Big Brother overstepping the mark? Or is a council - which suspects parents of cheating to get children to the school of their choice - justified in carrying out covert surveillance operations?

Today Poole council in Dorset has admitted spying on three families suspected of trying to beat the school system. Using new laws passed to track criminals and terrorists they tracked separate families for a number of weeks recording details such as “female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off”.

The council says it acted responsibly and in the best interests of the community but human rights group Liberty called the spying “intrusive”.

So where should the government draw the line? We’ve all heard stories of perfectly healthy people being prosecuted for claiming monetary benefits – is this surveillance any different? Surely the bigger picture the problem of the school catchment system – would families consider bending the rules if good schools were easier to come by?

One thing for sure is that it caused much debate in the newsroom and on the web. So what do you think?

Watch the lunch time news report on the story.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Has the Olympics been tarnished by politics?

For weeks now Meridian and Thames Valley have been following local athletes as they train hard for the Beijing Olympics. We have seen synchronised swimming in Hampshire, hockey in Berkshire, judo in Surrey and much, much more. It’s always very exciting to see what talent we have in the region – there seems to be an Olympic athlete around every corner!

However as the protests continue to follow the Olympic torch as it travels the globe you have to fight hard to remember what the Olympic meaning actually is. Is it just another sporting event encouraging tourism and development? Is it designed to make money? Is it reserved for sporting superiors alone? Or does it unite people in a worldwide event?

Politics aside it’s still important to remember the remarkable people throughout our region and the world that make the event possible. Whether you are for or against the 2008 Olympics you can’t deny that running the 100m in about 10 seconds is no easy feat. Hard determination, skill and dedication are driving the best of our athletes to the games this year. We wish them all the luck in the world and look forward to sharing the celebrations when they return.

Meet the region’s Olympic athletes in our special Beijing channel.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Dreamland’s dreams end after Margate fire

It’s been a sad few days in Kent as many across the region mourn the loss of a favourite tourist sport – Dreamland in Margate.

On Monday we got the sad news that the wooden rollercoaster, the Scenic Railway, had 80 firefighters tackling a serious blaze that seemed to spring out of nowhere. The famed rollercoaster that entertained thousands for more than 80 years went up in flames that destroyed about a third of the attraction. And sadly police have now confirmed that the blaze was started deliberately.

The mood in the newsroom was one of dismay as pictures of the burning Scenic Railway poured in. Members of the newsdesk sat reminiscing about childhood days out at the seaside resort. ITV Local news editor Sharon said that being on the rollercoater was like stepping back into the 1950s – it’s dated d├ęcor still charmed years later!

Facebook is also already full with Dreamland groups – some expressing sadness, others expressing anger that the fire was ever able to happen. A petition has been started in the resorts name with the simple quote ‘The Scenic railway was the Heart of Dreamland, and Dreamland was the heart of Margate’.

Captured on a mobile phone here is the sad moment when part of the railway collapsed.

You can upload your own footage of Dreamland to YourNews.

Plus share your Margate memories here on the ITV Local blog.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


My usual Sunday morning lie-in was a non-starter last weekend - rudely awakened by both husband and son at 7am, equally excited that our street was under a thick blanket of snow, which was still falling in abundance, despite the local shops selling easter eggs off at half-price and big ads everywhere for barbecues and swimsuits.

There was nothing for it - we bundled up in our warmest gear (where DID I put my left leather glove?) and took a walk down to Winchester Cathedral. (Son travelled in style in his wagon as usual). After the usual snowball fun, we posted some footage from a mobile phone here but to be honest it doesn't really do the scene justice.

Anyway, there are lots more snow clips on Your News at the moment though, and some of the ones from further east and inland show much more snow than we had. We're not going to forget April 2008's snow for a long time I suppose, unless this becomes the new norm. I guess climate change is more than just global warming then, eh kids?

You never know - just after we took that footage, a man of the cloth wandered past (we were in the cathedral grounds) and commented that it was like Christmas. Well actually, I don't remember a white Christmas for many years, maybe the church should consider moving it back a few months to take advantage of spring snow. Swap Christmas and Easter perhaps? Or Christmas card manufacturers might consider depicting scenes of carollers wearing cap sleeves and shorts?

Friday, 4 April 2008

Jason Donovan, the Ventura and blogging - all in a days work...

Today has been a really busy one for the ITV Local team. Sharon and Heather were busy holding the website fort as Casey and I were out of office in London for the day. They had some exciting extras such as an extended interview with Jason Donovan. The Echo Beach star is going to be busy this weekend running the OX5Run in aid of the Oxford Children’s Hospital this weekend. We wish him the best of luck!

We also have a special report from travel correspondent Mike Pearce. Mike has been getting ship-shape having a special tour around cruise ship the Ventura. Its Britain’s largest ever cruise ship and it’s due to sail to Southampton any day now.

Meanwhile Casey and I were busy learning how to be expert bloggers! We had a really exciting meeting with 1000 heads who have been monitoring internet social networking since 2000. Hopefully this means a new and exciting future for the ITV Local blogs and with a redesign in the pipeline we hope you will all ‘tune in’ to see how we are getting on. We will now be bringing you all the latest gossip and information direct from the newsroom so stay tuned the ITV Local Meridian & Thames Valley blog!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Were you a fool this April?

Traditionally April Fool’s day is when journalists across the country rack their brains for bizarre stories about mutant animals and spaghetti harvests just so they can con the public for a day. And this year was no exception – we had flying penguins on the BBC in a spoof 'Miracles of Evolution' documentary, French president Nicolas Sarkozy decided to undergo stretch treatment to add inches to his height in The Sun and Gordon Ramsey banned restaurant swearing in The Independent.

The Meridian and Thames Valley news teams were no exception and entered into the sprit in style.

Weather man Simon Parkin went out to Oxfordshire to try and spot the mass April Fool in Henley-on-Thames. Villagers clubbed together in a two week long prank set as a competition by councillors. Ever seen a slimming sausage filled only with air? Well, they’re on special offer now in Oxfordshire!

Artist Jonathan Truss uploaded these scary photos of a leopard at large in his Bournemouth garden. But if you’re panicking about the beast reaching your garden then fear not as he won’t be getting very far – he’s stuffed.

The air show in Eastbourne is set for a different look this year with some special flying formations. However, instead of the Red Arrows, or the Tigers Parachute team, they've got a more unusual team lined up. Pigeons from across Sussex have started training for Eastbourne Airborne and we set reporter Charles Lambert to see how they are getting on…

If you have some great April Fool pranks you’d like to share you can email us here.