Friday, 12 December 2008

Atkins Demands Better Food Labelling

Local MEP Sir Robert Atkins has called for a better labelling regime for processed foods after it emerged that food packaged as "Made in Britain" could contain Irish pork caught up in the diocin alert in the Republic.

At present processed foods containing pork may contain ingredients from all over the European Union or from further afield, yet if they are processed in the UK, the final product can be labelled as being "Made in Britain."

Sir Robert, who is Member of the European Parliament for the North West Region, says he has campaigned for some time to have the principle meat ingredients labelled according to their country of origin to allow people to make an informed choice as to where their food has come from and to make it easier to trace and identify food ingredients in the event of food scares like the one experienced in Ireland this week.

"We're in desperate need of a better labelling system," argues Sir Robert. "If all meat ingredients were traceable, either by way of a barcode or a link to a website which listed them all and their country of origin, it would be far easier to be sure that potentially contaminated meat could be traced in the event of a scare. Otherwise uncertainty reigns and we have the present situation where nobody is quite sure where or how serious a scare actually is.

"Consumers also have a right to know exactly where all the ingredients have come from so that they can be 100% sure that they are buying British if they want to.

"At the moment, some companies seem to use labelling to confuse rather than inform and this needs to stop. Labelling should be clear and should properly inform the customer of what is in that product and where it has come from. Anything less is not only potentially dangerous but stops consumers making an informed choice."

Putting an End to University Research?

An article in subtext (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/) notes that Lancaster University Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings has been advising the government to close down research funding to Lancaster and have it as primarily just a teaching establishment, if one can read clearly between the lines of his recent report to John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Earlier in the year, subtext editors record, Prof. Wellings was approached by Denham to give strategic advice on 'how universities should manage IP for their own benefit and for the wider economy'. Intellectual Property rights relate to the royalties that may be earned by research from its commercial applications. At the end of September the prof delivered his report - the remit letter and final report can be downloaded from www.dius.gov.uk/policy/intellectual_property.html.

An interview with Prof. Wellings published in the Times Higher Education (THE) supplement of 27 November focuses on section four of the report, which dealt most closely with 'the connection between research students and graduate schools and good IP generation and exploitation' (http://tinyurl.com/5m6ln2). In this section he recommends that the government target postgraduate training funds on those institutions with larger graduate schools, which also tend to be those with better records of research commercialisation.

In the THE article the V-C is paraphrased as saying that "the sector should continue to diversify so that by 2020 each Region has just one or two major graduate schools." So in the North West Region, for example, there would presumably be only one or two 'research' universities to take all the research income and all the PhDs, with all the others concentrating on teaching.

The V-C has paid a lot of attention to getting Lancaster University up the League Tables and the University website proclaims Lancaster to be "one of the top 'research star' universities in the UK, with the 3rd highest research income and the 2nd highest number of Phds in proportion to academic staff costs."

However, in the table that accompanies the THE article (available from a link in the right hand column of the online version) Manchester and Liverpool are unsurprisingly identified as the two universities that produce by far the most PhDs in our Northwest Region. Similarly, in a table on pp. 24-7 of the V-C's report, Lancaster comes third after Manchester and Liverpool in the NW on all metrics except IP income, where it is way outstripped by Chester (why is that, by the way?).

The separation of research from teaching is a move that would disembowel the higher education system, making it impossible for the vast majority of students to experience high quality research methodologies. It would, however, mean that all research could be concentrated where it could be more easily monitered, regulated and budget prioritised from a central point according to its commercial viability, with reduced responsiveness to local needs.

Along with many other regional university cities Lancaster would receive a major economic blow from the relegation of the University to a secondary, teaching-only establishment, and would most likely turn its focus to attracting overseas students, less likely to invest their energy into the city. Do the futures of Infolab and the proposed Science Park hang in the balance?

Happy Birthday, Spotlight!

Lancaster's regular poets, writers and other performers event The Spotlight Club celebrates its 13th birthday on Friday 19 December at the Yorkshire House.

Top of the bill for the 150th outing for the Club are the Monkeyrack Writers comprising Spotlight co-founders
Sarah Fiske and Ron Baker (pictured), Simon Baker (no relation), Mollie Baxter, Iain Colley, Norman Hadley, Ron Scowcroft and Simon Unsworth.

Music turns for the evening is provided by The New Potato Scene, who made their well-received Spotlight debut back in September.

"I need to write," says actress and creative writing teacher Sarah Fiske of her craft. "It feels integral to who I am.

"The initial stimulus is often observational - perhaps a worried face in a crowd, an odd look or action between strangers on a train, a location
which is stunning, seedy or simply dull may lodge in my brain. Quite often the impetus is abstract - a vague feeling or amorphous shape in my mind, which takes many false starts before it forms into something. I never know, when I start, where a piece of writing will go. If I did it would bore me."

Ron Baker became a full-time (if unpaid and poverty-stricken) writer and writing promoter after winning a North West Arts writing bursary in 1997. Since then he has published poetry, short stories and written for the stage. He has also taught creative writing via the internet for Lancaster University. His last writing venture was an
(as yet unpublished) novel, Understanding Stanley. He says he's been organising Spotlight with Sarah since he "helped Noah launch the Ark".

Simon Baker has become a regular performer at Spotlight over the last few years. Starting tentatively at the Open Mic he has progressed to become acknowledged as a witty and erudite observer of the quirks and foibles of modern times through his appearances as a regular Spotlight compere and through his prose and poetry.

Writer and songstress Mollie Baxter (right) completed the MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University in 2003 and now teaches Creative writing at the University of Cumbria. Since then has had many accolades for her work, and seen it published in Flax Books, The Quiet Feather, Scribe, Pitch, Lune Fiction and on the phone-book.com. She has been shortlisted and won prizes in several sort story competitions.

Poet Iain Colley has been contributing stories, poems and articles to magazines and newspapers for many years and has a string of competition successes to his name - including winning the prestigious London Review of Books 'Poet of The Year' competition in 2002. An accomplished performer of his work, he was among those who appeared at the very first Spotlight on 15th December 1995.

Garstang-based poet Norman Hadley is a mathematician who spends his days designing mammoth engines to make ships skip over the foam like stones thrown by dads showing off. His evenings are spent trawling through his rhyming dictionary for 'orange'.
Lacking any Arts qualification beyond his 'O' level, he's best described (by himself!) as a "recovering geek". Norman, who recently launched his own book of poetry, says he once stumbled on the word 'eclectic' in his dictionary and thought it a good basis for a writing style. His poems hop from tragic to comic to sentimental weird in the flick of a metaphor, aspiring to the pigeonhole marked 'un-pigeon-hole-able'.

Ron Scowcroft's poetry was selected twice this year for the Guardian Books website. His work has recently been published by Poetry Nottingham, highly commended in the City of Derby competition and longlisted for the Bridport prize.
Expect anything rich and strange from urban myth to dream cats, parrot obsessed painters to screaming planets during his turn at the mic. Ron's post-grad research into fantasy and visual art has informed the cinematic qualities of his published writing and led to collaborations with UCLAN based artists John M. Morrison and Jayne Simpson.

Simon Unsworth is the newest member of Monkeyrack and writes horror and fantasy fiction. This will be his first appearance at Spotlight.

The New Potato Scene is a popular pop/rock teenage band (by which they mean, the majority of their school have now seen them play!).
George Webster, Chris Everett, Ben Gladwin and Adam Robey form the band, performing a mixture of a variety of covers and their own interesting, quirky pop songs.

Compered by John Freeman, Spotlight's Christmas come birthday bash opens at 8.30pm, admission £3/£2 (conc)


Thursday, 11 December 2008

New Credit Crunch Initiatives Announced for Local Business

The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) has just hosted an event with senior regional representatives from the major banks operating in the North West in an effort to co-ordinate support for local and regional businesses affected by the ongoing economic downturn.

The NWDA says the meeting was part of the coordinated response by public sector and the banks to discuss the provision of loans to businesses and how they can work together to support businesses as the credit crunch continues to bite and the banks involved have issued an assurance from the banks that they are still providing new lending and renewing existing facilities to businesses in the region.

“This was a constructive first meeting with an honest exchange of views which gave us a good overview of how the banks are responding to the current economic challenges," commented Vanda Murray, Deputy Chair of the NWDA Board, "and how we can work together to support businesses in our region.

“We discussed the range of public sector support and what actions can be taken to help the banks to mitigate the current financial crisis in the short term, while examining opportunities to improve business confidence for the region to support the eventual upturn in the economy”.

The meeting resulted in a number of actions and agreement to develop a joint action plan to promote awareness of the range of public sector products within the banks themselves; make businesses aware of the business support services of Business Link Northwest including Access to Finance; refer potential businesses that have viable business plans but aren’t bankable to the NWDA’s Small Loans for Business product providing loans between £3,000 to £50,000; and establish a network of contacts and champions across the region to support businesses in accessing support.

Bi-monthly meetings will also take place between the NWDA and the banks to review the current state of the economy and progress on supporting businesses.

This latest development is one of several initiatives announced by various government agencies to support local business. Business Link North West, a business support, advice and information service funded by government and managed in the North West by the Northwest Regional Development Agency recently published a guide to "beating the credit crunch" on its web site.

At a conference in Cumbria yesterday, local councils were urged to be prepared to rip up their rule books to help the county through the recession. The Cumberland News reports that some of the region’s top economic experts were at a seminar at Carlisle Racecourse organised by the Cumbria Strategic Partnership to plot the county’s route through the credit crunch and the economic downturn.

Tim Knowles, Cumbria County Council portfolio holder for economic development, said local authorities must not be hidebound by legal processes and must be nimble to exploit opportunities to soften the impact of the recession.

“From the county council’s point of view, I think we are going to have to hack through some red tape and break from the old traditional processes to get things through that on another day people wouldn’t allow us to."

• For more information on finance for business, visit: www.nwda.co.uk/finance

Council to launch new sustainable communities strategy

The Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership will be launching its new Sustainable Community Strategy on Friday (12th December) at The Platform in Morecambe.

The strategy sets out the long term vision for the district and highlights how the partnership will deliver improvements for the quality of life for everyone in the Lancaster district.

The Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership (LDLSP) is made up of public, private, voluntary, community and faith sector representatives, and includes major service providers such as Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Constabulary, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, and NHS North Lancashire.

The strategy will be available in electronic copy from the Lancaster City Council website, please visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/lsp for further details.

“I'm delighted to see this Strategy being launched," commented Jacqui Thompson, chair of the LDLSP. "It will target problems that affect everyone in the district, and raise the quality of life for our entire community. I know that we face many challenges in the district, but I am confident that we can deliver results by working together in partnership.”

“This strategy results from a lengthy period of consultation and planning, and has now received endorsement from the city council," explains Coun Roger Mace, vice chair of the LDLSP and leader of Lancaster City Council. "Implementation of the related action plans will offer benefits for all who live, work or play in our district.”

Following the launch event on 12 December, the strategy will be taken on a six month roadshow across the entire district, allowing the local community to learn more about the strategy, the work of the Partnership as a whole and become more involved in the work of the LSP.

• To be kept informed of future events and plans, please visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/lsp or contact John Marsh on 01524 582046.

In Review: Philip Fawcett’s Piano Recital at St. Peter’s Cathedral

A Review by Humble Sam

When our forefathers erected the first churches of Europe to worship God, they were certainly unaware that one day exceptional musicians would perform profound pieces of music in these houses of worship – musicians such as the distinguished pianist Philip Fawcett who appeared live last Friday, 5th December, at St. Peters Cathedral in Lancaster.

Dressed neat but casual, Lancastrian-born Fawcett performed on a well-tuned grand piano in front of St. Peter’s altar. He played deftly and travelled along the dynamic scale of piano music from subtlety to grace to forcefulness – whatever the score demanded. And this sounds somewhat misleading, for Fawcett played from memory alone. A pleasant thing to experience, as there was no-one hovering about waiting to leap to the piano and turn the sheets of the score.

The first piece of music on the menu was Mozart’s underrated Piano Sonata in B flat major. Fawcett played with light of touch and brought out the cheerful nature of Mozart’s compositions. His fingers moved Zen-like across the keyboard (gracefully with quiet determination) and the crystal clear yet warm sound of Mozart’s piano sonata emerged from the grand piano.

The second piece of music that evening was Sonatinas (‘mini sonatas’) 1, 2 & 3 by local composer David Jennings who was in the audience. It's not that often that one experiences a piece of Classical music with the composer in the audience and it is even less often that one experiences a piece of modern Classical music that is not dreadful. Jennings’ sonatinas were neither ridiculously reactionary nor horribly modern: they were delightful little pieces combining both traditional and modern aspects of composition. Sonatinas 1 & 2 contained Jacobean and Renaissance influences (Yep, Dowland’s hold over British music is still there) whereas Sonatina 3 had been inspired by Debussy’s piano work. The pieces had been originally composed when Jennings was only thirteen years of age. He shelved them soon afterwards but recently took them out of the cupboard and dusted them down – that is to say he rewrote them to combine musical maturity with youthful exuberance. Needless to say that Fawcett’s playing was effortless, as he and Jennings collaborate on a regular basis.

The second half of the evening kicked off with Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Opus 65. By hunching his back, splaying his fingers and lowering his head, Philip Fawcett tensed himself - only to let go through performing Grieg’s melancholic music. Fawcett’s intense trip-tropping over the keyboard reminded me of skiing down Alpine slopes in early June: melting ice beneath my skis, the fat warm sun glaring, pine trees around me, cows mooching among the boulders and the smell of blueberries and bergamot in my nostrils - a concoction of varying sensations that blended well together.

The last piece of the evening was officially Beethoven’s outstanding Sonata in F minor, Opus 57 – Appassionata. The music swirled, bounced around the cathedral, rested in our ears, bounced up again to swirl around the building and took me into a trance I rarely know of these days. And Fawcett enjoyed stimulating us with it. He would play with grim determination and than deftly switch moods with the occasional grin on his face. It was a spaced-out experience that left me exhausted but very happy.

And then there was the encore. As Fawcett himself pointed out, Beethoven’s Appassionata can’t be bettered when it comes to concluding an evening of piano music, but seeing as it had been and will continue to be a bitterly cold winter, Fawcett chose to round off proceedings with Grieg’s playful piece March of the Trolls – ‘a Norwegian piece of music for a Norwegian winter’ as the pianist put it.

Shame, however, that the attendance was so low. But more fool them, the fools that chose not to venture to St. Peter’s for a truly magnificent evening of piano recitals.

Even our forefathers were allegedly pleased by Fawcett’s performance.

© Jomar de Vrind, 2 Water Street, Lancaster, lA1 1HF Tel: 07792714860

More of Jomar's writing at: www.lunefiction.com and www.myspace.com/humblesam

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Powering Up New Video Art...


Heysham Power Stations are playing an integral part in Liverpool’s Year of Culture, with the sites featuring in a new video installation by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey.

The sites’ management team was approached by Andy two years ago about filming the stations for the video, which also includes other forms of electricity generation from the across the north west.

The unique project, which opens at Liverpool’s FACT centre on Friday 12 December and runs until 22nd February, saw the stylised video images set to original music written by Andy.

“British Energy has a long history of working with the arts communities as our stations are well known within the built environment," says Paul Winkle, station director at Heysham 2. “Recently Torness power station, the sister site to Heysham 2, was part of a Richard DeMarco art exhibition where he staged a show of his work but also projected a specially-shot video image on to the side the reactor building.

“But we were delighted to do our bit for Liverpool, and not only provide the city’s power but also be a part of this exciting cultural experience.”

Renowned video director Hambi Haralambous shot views of the stations inside the perimeter fence and also within the turbine hall. The final video shots were edited and designed by Hambi, Andy and Peter Saville the Manchester-based artist/designer who worked famously with Factory Records and OMD in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The Energy Suite Installation project grew out of a fascination I shared with designer Peter Saville of the aesthetics of industrial architecture," explained Andy. “We have been afforded the opportunity to film these incredible sites and record the sounds of their environment, and now we are able to present them accompanied by music inspired by what we have seen and heard.

“Many people will bring their own pre-conceptions when viewing the Energy Suite, however, I suspect that quite a few will leave the Installation agreeing with Peter's often repeated mantra, 'It all looks like art to me now'.”

Ghost stories and ghastly tales at the Ashton Memorial

Join the staff of Williamson Park (if you dare!) for a spine-chilling evening full of shocks and scares, ghost stories and local scary tales on Saturday 20th December, with a performance of the play The Ghost Writer.

Staged inside the evocative main hall of the Ashton Memorial, the play, in which two characters meet up before a funeral to reminisce about an old friend, promises to be a petrifying evening full of shocks, surprises and scares.

The performance begins at 7.30pm on Saturday 20th December. Tickets cost £6 for adults, £5 concessions.

• For tickets or more information please call Williamson Park on 01524 33318, or email to office@williamsonpark.com. Due to the terrifying nature of the play, parents are advised to accompany under 14s.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Citizen to Close?

Hot on the heels of the closure of the Lancaster offices of the Lancaster Citizen last month (see "When is a Local paper no longer Local?") comes the news that the free paper itself may also soon close.

The national Guardian reports that owners Newsquest are planning to close 11 newspapers in the north-west of England as part of drastic cutbacks to its regional newspaper publishing operation - including the Lancaster Citizen.

The Guardian says the publisher, which is owned by US newspaper giant Gannett, sent an internal memo to staff today (Tuesday 9th December) saying it had entered a number of different consultations to restructure its business in the north-west as a result of continued difficult trading conditions. The memo, seen by MediaGuardian.co.uk, identifies plans to centralise newspaper planning operations at Blackburn for all its north-west titles and create three regional editorial production hubs that will be responsible for all subediting.

The restructure under consideration would see 10 free weekly newspapers cease publication, including the Lancaster, Blackpool and Preston Citizen newspapers, the Westmorland Messenger, the Congleton Guardian, the Macclesfield Community News, the Hale Community News, the Knutsford Community News, the Lancashire Auto Exchange and the Manchester & Merseyside Auto Exchange.

Chris Hughes, the Newsquest regional managing director, told staff on those titles there would be a 30-day consultation with the company over the future of their jobs.

Last month, we reported now the Lancaster Citizen would employ just one local reporter while the newspaper's editor, Phil Fleming, took over as the group editor of the Citizen group, also covering papers in Chorley, Blackpool and Preston, but is now based in Blackburn. All advertising on the paper is now handled from Blackpool.

Five years ago, we understand the Lancaster Citizen was read in 60 per cent of Lancaster and Morecambe homes every week, more than any other newspaper. How did they get it so wrong?

Centros Campaigners To Plead Not Guilty

Centros protest in London

Four Lancastrians will plead not guilty to the charge of Aggravated Trespass on Thursday after being arrested following a protest at the offices of Centros, the development company behind the plans for the Lancaster canal corridor shopping centre (see news story).

The four protesters were arrested last week after entering the Centros offices in London and locking themselves to one another to ensure they would not be immediately removed. They then proceeded to read out a long list of questions about the proposed development that had not been asked by councillors at a recent planning meeting where outline planning permission for the development was given.

“We went along to the planning committee hearing, which was an absolute farce," said protester Matthew Wilson. “Members of the public had just three minutes to voice their concerns, which was nowhere near enough time to list the many reasons we object to this development.”

The development has been strongly opposed by many local residents. Last year, more than 600 people marched through town to show their opposition. Many feel Centros' economic arguments for the proposal failed to take into account the current recession and its impact on the local economy as well as the council’s approval for a new superstore south of the city, which will undoubtedly hurt the supermarket now included in the Centros proposal.

Debenhams, which was already struggling prior to the recession, is no longer seen by some as a reliable ‘retail anchor’ for the scheme and point out Centros itself has reconstituted its commitment to the scheme to remove its liability in the event of failure in the wake of its partner, Miller, pulling out altogether.

The council’s estimated loss of £6 million in the Icelandic bank crash means that currently the scheme presents a risk they are in no position to indemnify.

Feelings against the development run high. Former Council leader Ian Barker, who had represented Bulk Ward for a number of years failed to get re-elected in last year's city council elections, his fate a clear sign that those Lancastrians closest to the development site are strongly opposed to the plans.

The protestors who occupied the Centros London office argue all but the Green councillors failed to listen to their constituents and those councillors in favour of the plans gave the developer an easy ride.

“We went through all the appropriate channels," feels Matthews. "We signed petitions, we marched, we wrote letters of objection, we went and addressed councillors at the planning committee meeting, and we watched councillors almost sleeping through those meetings, ignoring us and accepting at face value everything Centros had to say.

"People will say we should accept the councils decision, but this wasn't democracy in action." harking back to an earlier development that landed Lancaster City Council in trouble, Matthews declared "This was Blobbygate all over again.”

As well as having a local impact, the protesters believe that, in the face of catastrophic climate change, developments such as that proposed, which they argue rely on unsustainable transport patterns and a continuation of over consumption are nothing short of madness and go against the government's own proposals to drastically cut CO2 emissions.

“I was the only person to raise the issue of climate change at the planning committee,” Aurora Trujillo, another protester, adds. “The government acknowledge this is the biggest threat we currently face as a global community, and they acknowledge that the way we travel, shop, and work can all contribute greatly to this threat, and yet not one single councillor had anything to say about this.”

Council planning officers have admitted that air quality, which already fails national standards in the development area will be worsened by the Centros development according to Air Quality Assessments.

Articles in the press this week have called the protest an anti-development campaign but the people involved would love to see this area developed in a genuinely sustainable way, restoring existing historic buildings, building sustainable and affordable housing, providing real green spaces, and ensuring that the existing city centre and its many small, independent shops remain viable."

The protesters were not acting in the name of the Carnival of Culture, It's Our City or any group campaigning against the Centros plan.

The protestors will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court, London on Thursday. Section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJA) defines the offence as follows: "A person commits aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land with the intention of disrupting, or intimidating those taking part in, lawful activity taking place on that or adjacent land.

After studying the section, a Centros spokesman said “Our staff felt very intimidated by the seven who broke into the office.”