Friday, 24 June 2011

Strike Day Question Time Public Meeting for MP

Strike action, picketing, a rally in Market Square, and a Question Time Panel where local MP Eric Ollerenshaw (pic) will have to answer to the public for his government's policies on the NHS, pensions, and cuts are all planned in Lancaster for next Thursday 30 June.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)has 290,000 members and is the UK's largest civil service trade union. It opposes cuts to pensions, jobs, spending and privatisation. Its strike action on June 30 is likely to bring courts, ports and job centres to a standstill for the day.

Strike action on the 30th by the NUT, ATL and UCU will affect most schools, colleges and universities. The National Association of Headteachers has said they will not strike but that schools deemed unable to run safely with reduced staff numbers will close for the day.

Teachers are particularly concerned at the coalition government's breaking of pension agreements that will result in their contributions being increased by 50%, their benefits reduced by 17% and both sexes working to the age of 66. Many consider the management, education and inspiration of large groups of children, from tots to teens, by a class teacher old enough to be their great-grandparent, an impossible notion.

Single parent families, already, on average, the poorest in our society, are to experience government cuts of 8% to their benefits overall, making them the group most damaged by the cuts in every sector. They are the most vulnerable to fiscal predation being, by their circumstances, isolated, ununionised and without resources. As they are predominantly women, the government's message that women must be deterred from raising families alone, even when thay have no choice or face abuse, is clear.

The second most vulnerable group is the disabled, which includes many elderly people, who have suffered swingeing cuts in services, and benefits, as well as facing reduced pensions and reduced monitoring of those services they do receive, leaving them more exposed to endemic abuse.

The L&M Claimants Union, Lancaster Women Against Cuts, and the Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group are also taking action in support of the official strike.

Unison, the health workers union, is planning industrial action in the autumn, which would affect hospitals and medical centres.

As well as various picket line actions, a rally will be held on 30 June in Lancaster's Market Square. Events will start at 11am, culminating in the main rally between 12.15 and 1pm. There will be live music, street theatre, face-painting and balloons for kids and speeches from unions and community action groups.

In the evening there will be a Question Time Public Panel on NHS privatisation, held in the Hugh Pollard Lecture Theatre, University of Cumbria (St Martins)from 7.30-9.30pm. MP Eric Ollerenshaw will be on the panel.
Called "NHS - Going, going, gone?" it will be hosted by LINk (not LMATC as we previously, mistakenly reported). The people of Lancaster can put questions to our MP and others and join in the debate about the future of the NHS. Other Panel members will be:
Dr David Wrigley, Carnforth GP, member of Keep Our NHS Public
Mr Bryan Rhodes, Consultant Orthopaedic Consultant
Caroline Collins, Lancashire LINk Board member
Chair: Dr Maggie Mort, School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
Please send an email to elham[AT]thebha.org.uk or call 387835 if you'd like to book a place or send in questions for the panel. There will be places available on the night for people who have not registered too.
See campus map (click on 'buildings' and '21')
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209808729057479

National award for Special Inspector Ruth Gardner

Can you 'trust the specials like the old time coppers' as the song goes? Ruth Gardner looks like she could be a good bet. As a special inspector who polices Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre, she has received a national award for helping to improve the processes for searching for missing people.

Ruth Gardner, aged 36, was awarded the Ferrers Trophy at the National Policing Improvement Agency’s annual Special Constable and Police Support Volunteer Awards, which aim to recognise the wide range of skills that volunteers bring to policing in England and Wales.

Special Insp Gardner has worked for Lancashire Constabulary on a voluntary basis since 1994. She leads a team of five special sergeants and more than 50 special constables.

Her team have helped introduce new policies for searching for missing people, putting over 600 hours worth of time into the project. The procedures have resulted in the successful location of a number of vulnerable people.

Special Insp Gardner said: “I decided to join the Special Constabulary as I wanted to give something back to the community in which I live. It is a very rewarding role.

“I am delighted to have been given this award which I feel recognises the commitment that my team and I give to policing. These awards are a fantastic way of showing the value of specials and volunteers across the country.”

Ruth was recently given the special constable of the year award at a Lancashire Constabulary ceremony for her devotion and commitment.

Chief Officer Nigel Walters, who oversees Lancashire’s Special Constabulary, said: “Ruth has demonstrated excellent leadership qualities whilst providing clear direction to her team.

“The work she has done in the arena of missing people has improved public safety and successfully helped the force to locate missing people.

“Joining the specials can give a person a great sense of fulfilment – it gives them a chance to get involved with the community and make a real difference to the people living there. It is fantastic to see Ruth getting national recognition for her work and setting an example to other officers.”

There was a new record of 149 nominations for this year’s Special Constable and Police Support Volunteer Awards. The awards - originally called the Ferrers Awards after the then Home Office Minister - were first held in 1993 to recognise the work of special constables. They were renamed the Special Constable and Police Support Volunteer Awards to also recognise those volunteers, without policing powers, who perform unpaid tasks that allow regular officers and police staff to carry out other duties.

Lancashire Constabulary has a total of 443 special constables. They have full police powers and perform the same duties as regular officers. These can range from general patrol to the policing of football matches and road traffic incidents.

Specials wear the same uniform as police officers and are issued with the same equipment. Aged 18 and above, they work flexible hours with a minimum requirement of four hours per week and provide their time and expertise without financial reward.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

In Review: 'Jamrach's Menagerie' by Carol Birch

Lancastrian novelist Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie is a 19th century seaman’s yarn depicting the voyage from youth to maturity of one Jaffy Brown: an otherwise insignificant boy from London’s East End.

Fate pounces on Jaffy in the shape of a tiger, on the loose from Jamrach’s Menagerie of exotic creatures. Having survived and exhibiting a fondness for animals he soon finds himself embarking upon an eastern expedition with one of Jamrach’s chief suppliers, Dan Rymer, along with his friend Tim and the miscellaneous crew of the Lysander, a whaling ship.

Birch’s narrative now sails quickly into its main and most enjoyable section: the voyage. From here Jaffy is hurled into a number of set pieces against whales, ‘dragons’, treacherous oceans and strangely enticing environments.

We might raise small quibbles about the odd jaunty description: a waterspout incongruously playing ‘Simon Says’ throws us off course a bit, but otherwise the narrative is steady and detailed. For instance there are many literary allusions serving to bestow an air of sophistication, including supernatural visions reminiscent of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Speaking of literary comparisons, the most sizable for any novel set on a 19th century whaling vessel must be against the cetaceous Moby Dick. But, Jamrach’s Menagerie does not feel like Moby Dick. There is something decidedly less hoary and austere about it – on the whole. Whilst what may be a relief to many readers: the curtailment of exacting details that adorned Moby Dick like blubber, results in a far more accessible read. That’s not to say this novel doesn’t have the necessary detail to plumb the depths of human experience, because at points the writing is rather contemplative indeed.

Birch’s power is undeniable when pitched at the dark extremes of a personal or shared crisis. Her simple imagery is piercing, the protagonist’s introspections poignant, and accounts slurred by drunkenness and delirium touch upon the masterful. The final run of the voyage is particularly moving. The narrative slips into a vital and sinister vein, and with each paragraph’s ebb and flow Birch is firmly established at the oarlocks and adeptly rows.

Overall it’s a tale of men swept up by the tides of chance and fate, struggling against a wild and indifferent nature: the ocean, the world, perhaps even themselves. They’re sailors burdened by the inability to communicate their traumas and tribulations, fought at the very borders and foundations of what makes them human. Finally it’s a story of the journey through our trials, of becoming and enduring existence.

Only at its heart there lingers and pervades an implicit sadness. For Birch has not painted these characters as bright heroes but as fallible shadows. We may say this is all the more touching because in sufferance fallibility is akin to vulnerability. The tragedy is the human condition – our own.

Joe Downes
23/06/11

Read more about Lancaster's Carol Birch in wikipedia

Applications welcome for next teen police cadet course

Teenagers who want to do something proactive with their spare time are being urged to sign up for the next teenage voluntary police cadets course. The scheme has been running for a number of years and accepts 16 – 19-year-olds who live or attend school in the Carnforth, Garstang, Lancaster or Morecambe areas.

The 38-week course enables teens to experience the full spectrum of policing within Lancashire, while carrying out fundraising challenges to the benefit of local causes. They also undertaken many projects aimed at breaking down barriers between the police, young people and the wider community, while working towards gaining a BTEC qualification.

The next course will start on September 14. Email nin.nessa@lancashire.ppn.police.uk or Audrey.oldham@lancashire.pnn.police.uk for an application form, or alternatively call 01524 596967.
Forms must be returned by July 19.

PC Kath Bromilow, course organiser, said: “The course has proven to be a real boost to the CVs of those teens who get involved – they gain an insight into policing and take part in some important community work. Previous cadets have really enjoyed the course and we hope the next set of applicants will benefit in the same way.”

Lancaster J30: Public Meeting on the National Strike at Town Hall Tonight

A public meeting will be held at Lancaster Town Hall at 7pm this evening Thursday 23 June in preparation for the National Day of Action called for Thursday 30 June.
The meeting has been organised by Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts, which is a coalition of local trades unions, community organisations and individuals. The PCS, NUT. ATL and UCU have already balloted for strike action on that day and other unions are in process of doing so or organising support actions.

The meeting tonight will be addressed by Dr David Wrigley BMA and will be supported by L&M Trades Council, LM&D NUT, ATL, Women Against the Cuts, Lancaster Keep Our NHS Public, L&M Claimants’ Union, Lancaster University Against the Cuts, UKUncut Lancaster, Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group and others. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)has 290,000 members and is the UK's largest civil service trade union. It opposes cuts to pensions, jobs, spending and privatisation. Its strike action on June 30 is likely to bring courts, ports and job centres to a standstill for the day.

Strike action on the 30th by the NUT, ATL and UCU will affect most schools, colleges and universities. The National Association of Headteachers has said they will not strike but that schools deemed unable to run safely with reduced staff numbers will close for the day.

Teachers are particularly concerned at the coalition government's breaking of pension agreements that will result in increased contributions, reduced benefits, and both sexes working to the age of 66. Many consider the management, education and inspiration of large groups of children, from tots to teens, by a class teacher old enough to be their great-grandparent, an impossible notion.

Single parent families, already, on average, the poorest in our society, are to experience government cuts of 8% to their benefits overall, making them the group most damaged by the cuts in every sector. They are the most vulnerable to fiscal predation being, by their circumstances, isolated, ununionised and without resources. As they are predominantly women, the government's message that women must be deterred from raising families alone, even when thay have no choice or face abuse, is clear.

The second most vulnerable group is the elderly, who have suffered swingeing cuts in services, and benefits, as well as facing reduced pensions and reduced monitoring of those services they do receive, leaving them more exposed to endemic abuse.

Speakers from the L&M Claimants Union, Lancaster Women Against Cuts, and the Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group will also address the meeting in support of action.

Unison, the health workers union, is planning industrial action in the autumn, which would affect hospitals and medical centres.

As well as various picket line actions, a rally will be held on 30 June in Lancaster's Market Square. Events will start at 11am, culminating in the main rally between 12.15 and 1pm. There will be live music, street theatre, face-painting and balloons for kids and speeches from unions and community action groups.

In the evening there will be a Question Time Public Panel on NHS privatisation, held in the Hugh Pollard Lecture Theatre, University of Cumbria (St Martins)from 7.30-9.30pm. MP Eric Ollerenshaw will be on the panel.
Called "NHS - Going, going, gone?" it will be hosted by Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts. The people of Lancaster can put questions to our MP and others and join in the debate about the future of the NHS. Other Panel members will be:
Dr David Wrigley, Carnforth GP, member of Keep Our NHS Public
Mr Bryan Rhodes, Consultant Orthopaedic Consultant
Caroline Collins, Lancashire LINk Board member
Chair: Dr Maggie Mort, School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
Please send an email to elham[AT]thebha.org.uk or call 387835 if you'd like to book a place or send in questions for the panel.
See campus map (click on 'buildings' and '21')
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209808729057479

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Council to invite applications for Freewomen of the City

Lancaster City Council has issued its annual invitiation for applications from potential Freemen of the City of Lancaster. Traditionally, Freemen enjoyed certain exclusive trading and grazing advantages. Freewomen may also now be admitted but the council has yet to make it known (see update below (24/6/11 The council's public invitation specifies that it is issued exclusively to males over the age of 16 who fulfil one of the following four strict criteria:

* To be the son of a Freeman
* To be a native of the city having been born within the old City of Lancaster boundaries (covering roughly from Scotforth to Skerton)
* To have been a citizen within the old city boundaries for a period of at least 7 consecutive years
* To have served an apprenticeship to a Freeman for a period of 7 consecutive years

New Freemen will be entered at a special court of admission on July 9, starting at 10am, and applications are now being invited.

Back in 2009 the council said 'At this time the Act only allows the City to admit men as Freemen, but it is hoped that eventually the opportunity will arise when this can be changed to allow the admission of women.' And did nothing.

Now one Lancaster woman has challenged the 'tradition' of discriminating against women without cause. Long-time Lancaster resident Christine Simpson has asked the council for permission to apply to be a freewoman of the City. After some deliberation a council officer has issued her with the following response.

"The only category under which we can now admit women is the category of admitting the son or daughter of a Freeman, who must be at least 16 years of age. This is a category where the admission criteria has been changed by law, but the other three categories are not covered by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The City Council has to undertake a process in order to change these categories and I hope that they can be amended in time for the court to take place next July."

That women may be admitted as freewomen at all is news to many, as the council has as yet refrained from publicising this, and their recent invitation to applicants entirely excluded women and has yet to be corrected, despite their acknowledgement of its illegality.

As well of informing us of the council's legal position, which is at odds with its public position, Christine has written a response to the council which is as follows:

"I am not the daughter of a freeman, nor would I attempt to sidle, under paternal coat-tails, into the council's private club for gentlemen, while women are excluded from any category solely for being born female.

Girls were not admitted as apprentices when I was young in the 1960s and 70s. Like our mothers before us, we were not permitted to attend woodwork, metalwork or technical drawing classes in school. Because, my headmaster explained to me so that I would understand, these skills had to be kept exclusive to boys, so that as men they could find jobs and 'keep' families, and women must make shift to marry such men to be 'kept' by them. No sensible girl should think otherwise, or waste his valuable time disputing it.

Boys being prepared for careers as chefs, bakers, caterers or tailors were, however, permitted to join the girls in cookery and sewing classes, and received assistance and kindness from staff and their classmates when they did so.

I always found this biased mindset obstructive, perverse, callous and bigoted. The school managers had also generally gained through favour of gender and a cycle of corruption prevailed here and elsewhere. My parents were not taxed less for a daughter's education. The taxes paid by my ambitious and hard-working parents for my education went in part to employ men exclusively to put exclusive skills into boys, to keep their daughter dependent and unskilled. This practice is now illegal.

The innate sexism of the 'freeman' conditions is a legacy of this bigoted and now criminal mindset. There are no women apprentices in my generation that I know of. Do you? So, unlike men, we have never had any chance to fulfil such a condition. Yet again, you tell me, we must turn to our men, in this case fathers. So everyone who was raised by a single mother is also, quite deliberately, excluded. As were their mothers. Whose crafts and skills were also excluded, as they were, from recognised guilds or fair trade.

Excluded from most trades, and from such trading and social advantages as freemen could once exclusively enjoy, the profit of a woman's productivity could be more easily taken from her and gathered into a man's estate, to increase his civic and economic worth while remaining, by a gentleman's agreement, unrecognised, unledgered and unrewarded.

While the status of 'freeman' exists under its current criteria with council approval, it lends legitimacy to practices aimed at excluding women from fulfilling their economic potential, and from having their contributions, both paid and unpaid, valued to their indispensible worth. Each such 'traditional' infringement in itself may seem small, but together they collude to maintain a mindset that holds it acceptable to keep repeating 'no women belong here' without any fair reason whatsoever. Or that it is a reasonable compromise, a generous crumb scraped from the table, to offer participation that is solely contingent on a dependent relationship with the 'right' man, ie, one who has already been favoured for his gender alone. This is crude.

It demonstrates not only a lack of faith in the added value women can bring to the role, but also a hostility to its expression. It acts out and fuels a fear that men cannot compete with women on a level playing field, even in areas they hold most masculine. Consequently, we are not permitted to collaborate either. In this instance absolutely no footing for women other than by referral to a male guardian keyholder is tolerated.

You refer to a possible reform by July next year. I wrote to you about this matter some years ago and was given a similar story. There have been years of procrastination, and it is my earnest desire that the stale 'traditions' of favouring men, in so many of life's areas, to the end of keeping women in needy dependency, will be recognised as abusive, and stopped now. That 'tradition' that men should obtain benefits and recognition from the institutions of state, for no more than being alive and around, while women must remain unseen and unrewarded. Many households are led and supported by women, as they were back when I was a child too, their hardship and exclusion from opportunity maintained by such 'traditions' explicitly to deter women from seeking independence from exploitation or abuse.

I petition the council that it be remedied this year. It is a petty matter but where it is publicised it brings disgrace upon the council and upon the city and implies (and celebrates) an unhealthy undercurrent in the relationship between the men and women in it. I am surprised that rational women and men in the council tolerate it, it is an open insult all around and, furthermore, an unprovoked and self-renewing incitement to bigotry in those annually invited to collude with you.

You are well able to deal with it. Please do not let it slide around or be kicked into the long grass. Reform would bring benefits to the city as a whole, and it should be a just reform, with the condition that an applicant be male removed entirely from every criteria. In its current form it is a publically administered policy of stirring prejudicial intent against each and every woman and girl in every home, school and workplace in this city. Just how, exactly, did the council decide, on recent reflection, to go ahead and undertake that destructive mission even whilst recognising it as abusive to half its constituency and insulting to all of it?

I would be grateful if you would provide me, in writing, with the council's current justification for supporting this process, signed by the leader of the council or its chief officer.

I will be happy to address the council on this issue and the substance of my address is above if you would like to forward it to members for their advance consideration.

I request that this matter to be resolved within a time-frame that would permit an application this year.

Failing that, I petition that the admission of new Freemen under any conditions that discriminate by gender be immediately suspended until reform can be implemented. The council has authority to withdraw from this practice. It has absolutely no authority or duty to actively promote and preside over any gender-prejudiced private men's club simply because it has omitted to sort out the paperwork. It is a perversion of authority and misuse of public resources to require council officers to promote and enforce bigotry and discrimination against women."


Application forms are available from the Mayor’s Office by telephoning (01524) 582070 or by email to Lvines@lancaster.gov.uk.

Updated later today: Lancaster City Council's Legal Department has issued the following response:
"The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 inserted into Section 248 of the Local Government Act 1972 a new subsection (1A) which provides that "Where the son of a freeman of a city or town may claim to be admitted as a freeman of that place, the daughter of a freeman may likewise claim to be so admitted", and a new subsection (1B), which provides that "The son or daughter of a freeman of a city or town shall be admitted as a freeman whether born before or after the admission as a freeman, of his or her freeman parent, and wherever he or she was born".

These new provisions apply automatically as a matter of law.

Section 106(1)(a) of the County of Lancashire Act 1984 provides that "every male person shall be entitled to have his name entered on the roll of freemen of the City who – is the son of a freeman of the City and has attained the age of 16 years."

Accordingly there is now a statutory requirement under Section 248(1A) to admit as a freeman the daughter of a freeman of the City who has attained the age of 16 years. Because the County of Lancashire Act is silent on the matter, it can be assumed that sons of freemen have always been admitted wherever they were born, and whether they were born before or after their father’s admission as a freeman, and so Section 248(1B) does not affect Lancaster.

The 2009 Act also adds Schedule 28A to the Local Government Act 1972. This provides a procedure which can be used where, as in Lancaster’s case, the freemen provisions are contained in an Act, to amend those provisions so as:

To provide for a woman to have the right to be admitted to freedom of a city or town in any or all circumstances where a man has that right;

To enable a woman admitted to the freedom of a city to use the title "freewoman";

To put a civil partner or surviving civil partner of a person admitted to freedom of a city in the same position as a spouse or surviving spouse of such a person

These amendments can be made by an order of the Secretary of State, following a "qualifying resolution".

A "qualifying resolution" is one that is proposed by three or more "eligible persons", and passed by a majority of the eligible persons voting on the resolution, provided that at least 10% of those to whom notice is sent actually vote. An eligible person is a person whose name is on the roll of persons admitted to the freedom of the city.

As yet there has been no qualifying resolution, so the only current provision for admitting women is Section 248(1A), in relation to daughters.

The following is a link to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 for ease of reference:- http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/20/contents"

Ms Simpson has referred the City Council Legal Department to the Equality Act 2010, which came into force for local authorities (LAs) in April 2011. It prohibits LAs from providing public services on a discriminatory basis or keeping policies that discriminate by gender, and lays upon them a duty not only to avoid discrimination, but also to advance equality in all their activities. Nor does it permit LAs to 'delegate' responsibility for discrimination to partner organisations - or 'eligible members' - to which it provides services such as administration and other benefits. Particulary when the eligibility itself is discriminatory and the discrimination self-interested.

Updated Friday 24/6/11. The City Council issued the following PR at 16.42:
"Applications are being invited for one of Lancaster’s most historic traditions.
Each year Lancaster City Council continues the longstanding custom of admitting new Freemen of the city.
Traditionally the honour of becoming a Freeman carried a number of privileges including the right to ‘pasture a limited number of beasts’ on the Marsh, to enter the city free from the payment of tolls and also to bring goods through toll gates for sale at the Lancaster Market.
Nowadays the role carries few rights, but remains popular amongst those who are proud of their heritage.

Both men and women are eligible to apply to become a Freeman if they are the son or daughter of a Freeman and are at least 16 years old.

Alternatively applications are invited, but only currently from men, which meet one of the following criteria:

• To be a native of the city, having been born within the old City of Lancaster boundaries (covering roughly from Scotforth to Skerton)
• To have been a citizen within the old city boundaries for a period of at least seven consecutive years
• To have served an apprenticeship to a Freeman for a period of seven consecutive years

New Freemen will be entered at a special court of admission on July 9, starting at 10am, and applications are now being invited.
Applicants are required to pay a fee of 50p for their admission and provide documents supporting their application.

Applicants are also required to attend the court in person and must bring with them a person who is willing to stand and vouch for their identity – for example a spouse, sibling or friend - and swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen and to the mayor and the city.

Application forms are available from the Mayor’s Office by telephoning (01524) 582070 or by email to Lvines@lancaster.gov.uk.