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Stonehenge general manager sought

Druids celebrate winter solstice at Stonehenge in WiltshireDuties include overseeing arrangements for winter solstices

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The pre-historic stones of Stonehenge are to be cared for by a general manager for the first time.

English Heritage says it needs "a dynamic and inspirational leader" to look after the site in Wiltshire.

Duties for the £65,000-a-year job include leading the Wiltshire monument's 180 staff and volunteers and liaising with druid leaders.

Other responsibilities include overseeing arrangements for summer and winter solstices.

'Brightest and best'

English Heritage's Tim Reeve said it was "important to ensure we keep the dignity of the stones".

"You could be up at the stones one minute, in outdoor garb trying to help visitors, then you can be back in a state-of-the-art visitors' centre," he added.

"The next time you could be in a suit, representing our site."

He said it was also important to make sure "solstice celebrations aren't in some way compromising the mystery and integrity of the stones".

English Heritage has called for only "the brightest and best" candidates to apply for the position.

The closing date for applications is 5 May.

Meanwhile, an excavation by volunteers on a shoestring budget has shown that the site of Stonehenge was a settlement 3,000 years before it was built.

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Amazon to pilot TV shows online

John Goodman in Alpha HouseThe pilot shows include Alpha House, which stars John Goodman

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Fourteen pilot shows - including Alpha House and Zombieland - are to be put to the public vote on Lovefilm and

Viewers can submit feedback influencing which shows get made into full series.

The 14 shows are made by independent production companies and produced by Amazon Studios, the film and series production arm of Amazon.

"This is the first time Amazon Studios has done this," said Simon Morris, Lovefilm's chief marketing officer.

Eight adult comedies and six children's animation series will be put to the public vote.

The shows will be aired on Amazon's pay subscription services - Amazon Prime in the US, and Lovefilm in the UK - but Morris told the BBC they would be available to everyone and not just subscribers.

The adult pilot shows include Alpha House, about four senators who live together in a rented house in Washington DC and stars John Goodman, who was recently in Oscar-winning film Argo.

"Bill Murray has got a cameo in Alpha House, looking a bit older, a little bit more bedraggled, but definitely Bill Murray," Mr Morris added.

Onion News Empire is set behind the scenes of the Onion News Network, a satirical daily news service, and "shows just how far journalists will go to stay at the top of their game", according to Amazon Studios.

It stars Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor as the "egomaniacal lead anchor".

Musical comedy Browsers stars Cheers and Frasier actress Bebe Neuwirth as the "terrifying" boss of a news website in Manhattan.

Other pilot shows include Zombieland - based on the film of the same name - featuring four survivors attempting to outwit zombies, while animated comedy Dark Minions, written by Big Bang Theory's Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie, is about two "slackers" working on an intergalactic warship.

The children's shows include animations Sara Solves It, where Sara and Sam solve maths-based mysteries, and Creative Galaxy, an interactive art adventure series.

Zombieland The Zombieland pilot is based on the film of the same name

"This isn't X Factor for some new titles where you get to vote and they're fairly gimmicky," Mr Morris said. "It has a unique position in the world in that it has a platform that's a pay platform, it has an entertainment platform."

He said that the "world of digital has been growing, driven in large part by the BBC iPlayer, from about 2008" and that he saw this move as the next stage.

"Mass-market digital consumption and streaming have come of age in the last few years," he added.

'Promotional tool'

But Toby Syfret, TV analyst for Enders Analysis, was sceptical about the venture, describing it as a "gimmick" and said he did not think it would make much of a dent in the TV landscape.

"I think the success of this will have a huge amount to do with the publicity they can get for it."

Kevin SpaceyKevin Spacey's House of Cards was made and broadcast on Netflix

Amazon and Lovefilm were able to put pilots to the public vote because "they are not TV channels with set budgets", he said, adding that "you cannot sustain a programming operation if you let viewers decide - you're losing control of the purse strings".

He also queried whether programme-makers would want the public vote to potentially leave them "committed to the most expensive thing which is least good".

"Programme makers may end up saying 'we'll go with it, but it's a bit expensive so we'll cut the budget' - and then you've done what the public's asked but it's been slashed by half," he added.

"Ultimately, this is a promotional tool - Amazon's thinking that Netflix has done it this way [by broadcasting Kevin Spacey's House of Cards drama series] so we'll come at it from another way."

Earlier this year, the streaming TV and movie service Netflix made and broadcast House of Cards, and revealed plans to make at least five new shows a year.

YouTube, owned by Google, also recently launched its original channels initiative with 20 new channels coming from the UK.

Mr Morris said that the key thing that marked his venture out was that "the platform is open".

"Not everyone has the opportunity to go and pitch an idea to HBO in New York, not everyone can get on a plane to Cannes and pitch a script," he said.

"But there is now a vehicle whereby people are in a place that independent writers - whether they've got a track record or not - can put content through and it can be evaluated and brought to market. And that's the exciting thing about this."

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Annuity rates 'must prompt rethink'

Pension filesAnnuity levels have been low for some time owing to the economic situation

Rates for retirement incomes are unlikely to rise soon, a report says.

A typical retiree now will get £10,000 less in total retirement income than would have been the case with the same pension savings in 2011, the report for MGM Advantage and Prudential says.

Its authors say people should consider less conventional forms of annuity, which turn an individual's pension savings into annual retirement income.

But this came with a warning that they need to be aware of the risks involved.

Shopping around

Nearly 400,000 annuities were sold to retirees last year, bought for an average of £28,000 from their pension pot.

There has been criticism of the industry for not explaining to retirees that they can buy their annuity from any provider that they choose. This has led to the introduction of a new code of conduct ensuring that pension companies tell their clients that they can shop around.

Pension schemes explained

  • Final-salary scheme: Guaranteed pension based on earnings at end of your career and length of service. Also known as defined benefit schemes
  • Career average scheme: Guaranteed pension based on your average pay over your career
  • Defined contribution scheme: Determined by contributions and investment returns. Usually worth less than final-salary pensions

But now, a report for MGM Advantage and Prudential has suggested that people should shop around for the type of annuity that suits them, not just the provider.

'Risks involved'

Authors Billy Burrows, an annuity expert, and academic Professor John Maule say that annuities linked to investments might be a better choice for people with a larger pension pot.

Typically, people buy a guaranteed pension income at the point of retirement, but in an investment-linked product this income might go up or down depending on the success of the investments during the individual's retirement years.

"Alternative options such as investment-linked annuities can produce better outcomes for many pensioners by combining the peace of mind of an income for life with the potential for future income growth and flexibility," the report said.

"However these policies are not without risk, and it is important that investors fully understand all the risks associated with these options."

Mr Burrows said that anyone considering an alternative product needed to be very engaged in the process and get sensible advice from the industry.

He described annuity rates as being at a "tipping point".

Recent figures from MGM Advantage showed a 3% increase in rates in the first three months of 2013. However, this was set against a backdrop of falling rates for some time.

In March, somebody with a typical £50,000 pension pot, aged 65, could secure an annual pension income of £2,875. Two years earlier, they could get £3,443, which equated to a difference of more than £10,000 over an average 18 years of retirement.

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US approves Dreamliner battery fix

DreamlinerBattery problems forced the Dreamliner fleet to be grounded worldwide

US aircraft regulators have approved a revamped battery design for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, paving the way for the fleet to return to the skies, after problems grounded it for months.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said airlines needed to replace the batteries to return to service.

It said it will publish a final directive next week.

Other international regulators are likely to follow but it will still be a couple of weeks before flights resume.

Boeing's chairman and chief executive Jim McNerney said: "FAA approval clears the way for us and the airlines to begin the process of returning the 787 to flight with continued confidence in the safety and reliability of this game-changing new airplane."

'High bar'

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said: "Safety of the travelling public is our number one priority. These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers."

The FAA said it would "closely monitor" modifications of the aircraft and teams of inspectors would be sent.

Start Quote

We have the right solution in hand, and we are ready to go”

End Quote Ray Conner Boeing's head of commercial aircraft

Boeing said the regulator had set a "high bar for our team and our solution".

Planes now need to be fitted with a "containment and venting" system for both the lithium-ion batteries. That includes a stainless-steel enclosure to prevent heat, fumes or fire from spreading if a battery overheats in flight, said the FAA.

"This is a comprehensive and permanent solution with multiple layers of protection," said Boeing's head of commercial aircraft Ray Conner.

"The ultimate layer of protection is the new enclosure, which will ensure that even if a battery fails, there is no impact to the airplane and no possibility of fire.

"We have the right solution in hand, and we are ready to go," he added.

All of the 50 Boeing 787 planes in service were grounded in mid-January after their lithium-ion batteries emitted smoke on several separate occasions.

The problems sparked a battery fire on a parked Japan Airlines 787 at Boston's Logan International Airport and another incident in which battery smoke forced an emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 787 in Japan.

The 787 is said to be one of the most fuel-efficient in the industry, and Boeing delivered 46 Dreamliners to customers in 2012.

The plane is the first in the world to use the lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter, hold more power and recharge more quickly.

But the grounding has cost Boeing an estimated $600m (£393m). Japanese carrier ANA lost some 1.4bn yen ($15m; £9.5m) in revenue through January's disruption alone.

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Osborne warned on mortgage scheme

Chancellor George OsborneMr Osborne has said it is a large but necessary intervention in the market

George Osborne's flagship scheme to boost the housing market may not help first-time buyers and could cost the Treasury large sums, MPs have warned.

The government will guarantee mortgages for three years from January where applicants can put down a 5% deposit.

The Treasury Committee warned the chancellor's plan made the government an "active player" in the market with a financial stake in propping up prices.

Labour say the plan amounts to a "spare home subsidy" to existing home owners.

Ministers aim to extend the current Help to Buy scheme to make it easier for first-time buyers or those looking to trade up to get access to home loans if they do not possess substantial equity of their own.

'Curtailing risk'

Mr Osborne has said the housing market is still not functioning properly after the 2008 financial crisis, with the number of purchases by first-time buyers down 40% in the past five years.

He has claimed the plan, now the subject of consultation, could unlock £130m of mortgage finance.


  • Starts in 2014
  • Run for 3 years
  • Homes up to £600,000
  • Covers new or old houses
  • Government guarantees 15% of value of mortgage

The idea is that loans from High Street lenders for house purchases of up to £600,000 would be underwritten by the government.

If a borrower defaults on a mortgage, he or she would stand to lose their 5% deposit. Thereafter the government would have to pay just under 15% of the outstanding amount, while the lender would be liable for just over 80%.

House builders and lenders have welcomed the initiative but Labour have warned of confusion about whether it could be used to buy second homes.

But, in an analysis of the main measures in March's Budget, the cross-party Treasury Committee identifies what it says are a number of potential problems.

The committee says it is not clear what fee lenders will have to pay to take part in the scheme or how it will be structured to cover potential losses.

The MPs also warn that the Treasury will find it difficult to price the scheme in a way which "sharply curtails risk" to the taxpayer.

The Treasury could potentially face big losses on loans it has guaranteed if lenders start to act more aggressively and the number of repossessions rise.


The committee says it is "by no means clear" that the scheme will benefit first-time buyers.

And the chancellor's claims that boosting demand will, in time, serve to increase the supply of property were "unconvincing" in the short term.

Start Quote

The government's Help to Buy scheme is very much a work in progress”

End Quote Andrew Tyrie Conservative MP

The committee also expresses concern that the scheme could become a "permanent feature" of the housing market and insists any decision about its future should be taken by politicians rather than the Bank of England.

And it says there is a "lack of clarity" about whether people who already own a home would be excluded, arguing that it "struggles to see the rationale" of existing homeowners of any kind being able to benefit from it.

"The government's Help to Buy scheme is very much a work in progress," said the committee's chairman, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie.

"It may have a number of unintended consequences. The questions the committee has asked the government need answering."

Budget leaks

Labour said the "damning" report was "another damaging blow" to George Osborne.

"We will only tackle the housing crisis and help first time buyers if we have a major programme of affordable house building, which Labour called for as part of our jobs and growth plan but the Budget totally failed to deliver," said shadow Treasury minister Cathy Jamieson.

"And it's astonishing that one month since the Budget, George Osborne has still failed to rule out people being able to buy second homes with a taxpayer guarantee.

"First time buyers and people struggling to get a mortgage should be the priority for help, not a spare home subsidy for the small number who can afford to buy a second one."

The Treasury says this is not the point of the scheme but parents may be allowed to buy homes for their children when it is finalised.

In its report, the committee also urged the Treasury to take further action to prevent Budget leaks.

It has called for an end to the practice of officials pre-briefing sections of the media about what is in the Budget on the understanding that it is not published until the statement has been delivered.

This comes after Evening Standard accidentally published details of the key points of the Budget on Twitter before Mr Osborne had addressed Parliament.

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UK in legal challenge to FTT tax

Euro superimposed on mapOnly 11 out of the 27 EU states have signed up to the new tax

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The UK government has launched a legal challenge against plans for a European financial transactions tax (FTT).

The FTT, which aims to raise public funds and discourage speculative trading, will be adopted by 11 EU states - but not by the UK.

Ministers fear it could be imposed on UK firms trading with businesses based in one of those states.

The Robin Hood Tax campaign group said the legal move was about "defending one rather rich square mile".

The 11 countries going ahead with the FTT are Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia.

Under their plans, transactions of shares, currencies and bonds would be taxed.

The City of London could be hit by the tax if, for example, a British firm trades with branches of French or German banks based in the capital.

The British government would have to collect the tax but would not be allowed to keep it.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said that, by increasing the costs of these deals, there could be big falls in the value of business carried out in the City, running to many billions of pounds.

'Tax on pensioners'

UK Chancellor George Osborne said an application had been lodged at the European Court of Justice on Thursday.

Start Quote

It is fully in line with international law and the principles of the single market”

End Quote EU spokesman

"We think that the financial transaction tax which the European Commission has put forward is not right for Britain," he told the BBC.

"Britain doesn't want to take part but it also doesn't want to be caught in the effects of this tax being introduced by other countries. Let's be clear - financial transaction tax is not a tax on banks or bankers, it's a tax on pensioners and people with savings and investments.

"So we want to make sure that yes ok, fine, if some European countries want to introduce those kind of taxes they can do so but they should not do so in a way that impacts Britain."

A European Commission spokesman said: "We remain confident that the decision to approve enhanced co-operation on the FTT, which was voted by EU member states on January 22 is legally sound.

"It is fully in line with international law and the principles of the single market. Transactions will only be taxed if there is an established economic link to the FTT-zone, in a way that is fully compatible with the principles of cross-border taxation."

'Great displeasure'

Some European governments have blamed speculators and excessive trading for exaggerating the swings in financial markets during the 2008 crash and the recent eurozone crisis.

Start Quote

Not content with letting our banks off scot-free, Osborne now wants to prevent European countries from making their financial sectors pay to repair the damage caused by the crisis”

End Quote Owen Tudor, Robin Hood Tax

They believe the FTT will help to encourage more responsible trading by financial institutions.

The BBC's Robert Peston said the British government felt the 11 were interfering in an illegal way with the UK's sovereignty.

While it may have a point, there would be great displeasure at the UK's blocking tactics among the 11, especially in Paris, he added.

The perception would be reinforced of the UK moving further and further away from the EU's core, he said.

The Robin Hood Tax campaign group says that, if the UK signed up to a tax on the financial sector, "it could give a vital boost to the NHS, our schools, and the fight against child poverty in the UK".

Spokesman Owen Tudor said the legal challenge was "against the wishes of people in Britain and across Europe"

"Not content with letting our banks off scot-free, Osborne now wants to prevent European countries from making their financial sectors pay to repair the damage caused by the crisis.

"Resorting to lawyers is the last refuge of a chancellor who has lost the argument."

He said the move was "breathtakingly hypocritical - the UK's own £3bn stamp duty on shares is collected wherever UK shares are traded and regardless of who is trading them".

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