Friday, 9 January 2015

Warning issued on dangerous high-strength 95% alcohol

One of the many
labels under which
Spirytus Rektyfikowany
is sold
Trading standards officers in Lancashire are warning people not to drink a Polish high-strength alcohol which has an ABV of 95% (ie it's 95% proof).

Spirytus 95% or Spirytus Rektyfikowany (Polish for 'Rectified Spirit') is a base alcohol which is generally used in Eastern Europe for making home-made liqueurs.

Rachel Wilcock from Lancashire's Trading Standards Service said: "We are aware that these products are on sale in some Polish shops in Lancashire and we want to make unsuspecting customers aware at the earliest opportunity about this issue. An ABV of 95% is simply too strong an alcohol to be drunk neat, as a shot drink.

"We suspect the product may not have adequate labelling, i.e. not having instructions for use in English, and therefore poses a hazard to people who consume it neat.

"Most spirit drinks are around the 40% ABV mark, so this is more than double the strength of regular spirits. We don’t want people to misuse the product thereby posing a risk to their health and possibly their lives.

"There has been an instance in Australia where a young girl drank the product and subsequently died, and we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

"Scientific evidence suggests that two shots of this drink could kill you, so we are very keen to liaise with the shops where it's on sale to make sure it is sold safely and legally."

If anyone sees the product on sale, or is selling the product in Lancashire, please contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506.

Scam post victims: Hundreds of pounds returned by Trading Standards crackdown

More than 50 people in Lancashire have received money back thanks to a new crackdown on 'prize draw' postal scams.

In June 2014 the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Royal Mail launched an initiative to seize responses to mail scams before the cash reaches the criminals behind them.

So far over 6,000 items of mail have been intercepted across the UK with more than £108,000 returned to victims. A further 4,000 replies to suspected scam mail are currently being examined.

Crucially, victims receive their money back from a Trading Standards officer who visits to make sure the person understands they have been scammed, and to check on their welfare.

Prize draw scams are notorious for targeting the elderly and other vulnerable people, who are less likely to realise that the mail is a scam.

County Councillor Janice Hanson, cabinet member for public protection services, said: "It can be very difficult to persuade vulnerable, often elderly, people that letters telling them they have won large sums of money are scams.

"The fact that we are able to contact them directly with the money they sent, along with very clear advice, should really help to break the cycle in many cases. Every cheque or money returned is another person helped and another blow to the criminals.

"I'm very pleased with the progress so far and we look forward to continuing this important work."

The National Trading Standards Scams Team has also obtained a list of 160,000 people across the UK who have been identified by scammers as repeat victims.

The list of names, compiled by criminals to focus their scams, is being passed to local Trading Standards officers who can then contact people to make them aware they are being targeted.

Trading Standards officers in Lancashire are working closely with safeguarding staff to ensure that victims who are identified as vulnerable receive appropriate support and referral.

County Councillor Hanson added: "Often those targeted by scammers are some of the most vulnerable people in Lancashire, and this information means we're able to check that they're receiving the support they need in terms of social care and other services."

If you think you, or someone you know, may be a victim of prize draw scams, please get in touch with Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.

You can report suspected fraudulent mail scams to Royal Mail by writing to Royal Mail at Freepost Scam Mail, call 03456 113 413, or email scam.mail@royalmail.com.

Visit Lancashire County Council Trading Standards website

New foundation courses entry route to study at Cumbria U

The University of Cumbria is introducing a new route to a degree for people needing a little extra support or those returning to higher education in later life.

From September 2015, the University will provide integrated foundation year courses in a range of subject areas including sport, policing, entrepreneurship and education to give people that first step up in their academic career.

Professor Sandra Jowett, Deputy Vice Chancellor said, “This is an excellent way for the University of Cumbria to increase access to higher education. We are committed to developing our students to the highest possible standards and our integrated foundation year degrees provide a supportive start to people who might not have been able to go to university before”.

Integrated foundation year students often achieve greater success than those doing the traditional three year degree with more receiving a 1:1 or 2:1 degree classification.

The four-year courses provide intensive support for students especially in the first year when half their time will be spent focusing on the skills needed for successful degree-level study.

This approach provides a solid grounding for those students who might not have the necessary grades for an honours degree programme or are returning to study later in life.

The university has developed a national reputation for outstanding student support, winning in this category in The Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2014.

Most of the new courses, covered by student loan funding, will be available at the university’s campus in Carlisle and some in Lancaster.

Anyone interested in applying can do so online through UCAS. Courses start in September 2015 though there are opportunities to apply outside these times too. For more information see www.cumbria.ac.uk/foundation

For more information contact www.cumbria.ac.uk/Courses/ApplicationsEnquiries/Enquiries/Home.aspx

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Lancashire County Council Reveals Proposals to Save £216m



Lancashire County Council's cabinet has announced the start of a consultation on its budget proposals for local services, which will deliver £216 million in savings by April 2018. 

Following an informal consultation over recent months inviting views on a list of options developed by council officers, members of the cabinet have decided not to include plans for 100% cuts in spending on subsidised bus services (which continue to attract widespread and determined opposition from taxpayers) and subsidised denominational school transport. 

As part of the consultation, the council is asking for views on a proposed 1.99% increase in council tax for the coming financial year to help protect local services. 

In February 2014, Full Council agreed savings over the three financial years from 2015/16 to 2017/18 of £62.5m. A decrease in funding and an increase in costs mean that over the same period the council has to save an additional £176.8m, making a total of £239.3m. 

David Borrow, Deputy Leader of the Council and portfolio holder for finance, explained: "We have to find unprecedented savings due to a combination of cuts imposed by central government and rising demand for essential services such as social care. 

"This means that in addition to the £21.0m of savings for 2015/16 already identified in last year's budget, we have identified a further £79.8m of savings to be made this year, a total of £100.8m. Between 2010 and 2018 we will have made savings of £547 million, which requires radical action. 

"We can make some savings by introducing more intelligent and efficient ways of working. However, it is also clear that we will have to deliver some services in a different way and stop providing some services altogether. 

"We will do all we can to ensure that we protect the most vulnerable in the county and we are also committed to spending our resources fairly, according to need.  

"As a Cabinet we are not supporting the option of removing bus subsidies or financial support for children travelling to denominational schools, having listened to feedback from the consultation we've carried out over recent months. 

"We are now carrying out a further consultation before the full council meeting in February takes the final decision on the budget." 

Speaking about the proposed council tax increase, Councillor Borrow said: "In view of the unprecedented financial challenge we face, this modest increase will bring in additional funds that will make a real difference to local services. Equivalent to just over 42p per week for a band D property, the increase would bring in an additional £7.5m which is the equivalent of protecting more than 180 children's social workers or repairing more than 300,000 potholes.  

"We realise times are tough but hope that local council tax payers will understand why we are proposing this; if we don't do it the gap in the council's funding will become even bigger and service reductions more severe." 

• Find out more at the Budget - Have Your Say page at www.lancashire.gov.uk and try the Budget Calculator
Subsidised bus services 

It was agreed last year that all of the county council's subsidised bus services would be reviewed according to a new set of criteria, agreed following consultation last year. The new criteria help to set out the primary purpose of the subsidised bus service, around enabling access to employment, education, health and welfare services and so on. Whilst the 100% reduction to subsidised bus services is no longer being proposed that review will now continue. 

Denominational school transport 

The amount by which LCC subsidises transport for students who attend a Church of England or Roman Catholic faith school which is not their nearest school was originally reduced in 2011, when a parental contribution of £380 a year was introduced though this still left the county council bearing about 60% of the cost. 

Last year it was agreed that the parental contribution would increase by 25%, with a year-on-year rise after that based on the retail price index plus 5%. That multiplier will remain in place which will reduce the burden on council tax payers. 

Find out more about Lancaster City Council's 2015/16 budget




Members of the public are invited to attend a presentation of Lancaster City Council’s proposed priorities and budget for the coming year, which will form part of the next meeting of the council’s Budget and Performance Panel on Tuesday 27th January.

Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting which takes place at Morecambe Town Hall from 6pm.  

There will also be the opportunity to ask questions after the presentation has taken place.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Over the last few years the council has been very prudent with its finances.  Government cuts have significantly reduced our income and without major changes to the way we deliver services, we would be facing immediate difficulties with our budget.

"The latest budget projections show that our strategy of making savings during the year has been successful so far and as a result we have avoided having to make further cuts for the time being.  We recognise that difficult times still lie ahead, but our progress to date has been very good. 

"All this would not have been possible without the hard work of everyone within the council and I’d like to place on record my thanks to everyone for their contributions.”

• The agenda for the meeting will be available at http://www.lancaster.gov.uk/meetings-and-minutes nearer the time

Crooklands Bridge repairs: “Once more unto the breach”

Crooklands Bridge. Photo courtesy Frank Sanderson

Crooklands Bridge, a bridge over Lancaster Canal near Kendal, has a closure order for eight days to accommodate major repairs. However, two men, one from Bradford, and one from Leicester, have proved that British workmen can prove their worth, for, they say, they will “finish the job today” and it should be open to traffic, at least light traffic, tonight, which is only the second day of closure.

The Canal and River Trust, the charitable trust that was set up to look after the waterways of England and Wales after the Government closed British Waterways in 2012, own the bridge on the community's behalf, and the cost of repeated damage by heavy and long wheelbase vehicles, is excessive.

Suggestions that crash barriers are erected seem to have been lost in Highways administration pigeon holes somewhere, and the existing road markings and directions are not sufficient to stop the constant damage.

Whilst the closure has been properly publicised, there has been no notices from the Milnethorpe side, and several massive vehicles from the mainline site (Ex Libbies) have had to reverse long distances before they could turn round.

"The bridge is of great importance to the local rural community," says Frank Sanderson of Lancaster Canal Trust, which aims to restore, and reopen to navigation, the length of the canal from Tewitfield, just north of Carnforth, to Kendal.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for 7th to 15th January 2015 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

There are four new films released during this period. We have family fantasy with Into the Woods (PG); action with Taken 3 (12A), drama with Foxcatcher (15) and finally romance with the much anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey (18). Unfortunately, we have lost The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Films that look like they are nearing the end of their screening include Annie, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Unbroken and Dumb and Dumber To. However, by way of compensation the following have returned to our cinemas A Most Wanted Man, Toy Story. Gone Girl and Mr Turner.

The Dukes have a particularly full programme at the moment including the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (15) and Fritz Lang's science fiction classic Metropolis (PG), being shown with a new live musical score.

There is little available by way of high culture. However the category of family entertainment is well represented with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Paddington, Penguins of Madagascar and Annie. Also, by way of compensation, there is horror with The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and the excellent romance Theory of Everything.

Reviews

Foxcatcher
Director: Bennett Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum.
A sports movie (Wrestling) based on a true story. Mark Schultz (Tatum) is a wrestler who won a gold at the 1984 Olympics. However he lives rather under the shadow of his more charismatic brother Dave (Ruffalo), who is also a wrestler and his coach. Meanwhile, the millionaire John du Pont (Carell), heir to the Du Pont chemical corporation, bankrolls the American National wrestling team. He offers to train them at Foxcatcher farm, the home of the Du Pont family, ready for the 1988 Olympic games to be held at Seoul. John DuPont has his own demons, feeling inadequate and trying to impress his mother (Redgrave). Mark Schultz, at first pleased to be invited to train at Foxcatcher, becomes increasingly disillusioned as does his brother as they are manipulated by du Pont. The alienation between the three men builds to a horrifying climax that makes for a really gripping movie.

Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Anna Kendrick
This is a Walt Disney adaptation of Sondheim's 1987 hit musical of the same name. The film posits that the fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel are all happening simultaneously. Meanwhile a Baker and his wife wish to begin a family, but they cannot due to a witches curse. To lift the curse they must collect items from each of the fairy tales. This is a star studded musical with excellent performances, especially from Meryl Streep who plays the wicked witch. The original stage musical had a number of adult themes which are softened for the Disney version, but the end result is a great and entertaining family movie.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ian McKeller, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Richard Armitage, Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee
This is the long awaited final installment of the Hobbit trilogy and it concludes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. The action immediately picks up where the previous movie left off. Thorin and his dwarves have reclaimed their homeland from the dragon Smaug, but Smaug now mounts an attack on Laketown. Meanwhile Sauron has sent legions of Orcs to the Lonely Mountain. Hence armies of Dwarves, Elves and Men must come together to determine the future of Middle Earth. The film is full of action, with numerous set pieces, as each of the major characters is give chance to shine. However, with the exception of Thorin who develops 'dragon sickness' there is little of interest taking place at an emotional level among the characters. Bilbo increasingly starts to be sidelined by the plot. This reviewer could not find any fault in the movie, but neither could he summon the enthusiasm to care about the destiny of Middle Earth.

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
A biopic of the early years of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawkins, based on the memoir 'Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen Hawkins' by Jane Hawkins. At Cambridge, Stephen Hawkins was an active young man who fell in love with literature student Jane Wilde. However, aged 21, Hawkins had an accidental fall which led to his being diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live. The film shows the marriage of Stephen and Jane and how she supported him and their children during the years of their marriage (they divorced in 1995). This is a beautiful film likely to leave the audience in tears. The acting is excellent especially Redmayne's portrayal of Hawkins and the movie shows the lighter side of Hawkin's character, his humour and his passion.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death
Director: Tom Harper
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Oaklee Pendergast
This is the sequel to the film 'The Woman in Black' which was based on the novella by Susan Hills. The Second World War is raging and a group of eight school children are evacuated away from London and the Blitz to rural England. They are accompanied by their Headmistress Jean Hogg (McCrory) and teacher Eve Parkin (Fox). The group occupy the abandoned Eel Marsh House which had been haunted forty years ago. Eve tries to build trust with Edward (Pendergast), one of the vulnerable children, who starts to exhibit trance like stages. Subsequently other children start acting strangely as a dark force is awakened. Eve seeks the cause of the problem aided by a pilot Harry Burnstow (Irvine). The film is a very competent horror movie with some romantic interest. It is well acted and has plenty of frights. However like many sequels, it does not quite live up to the suspense of the original.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

City Council: Become your own boss in 2015

Morecambe’s Festival Market is giving budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to run your own business with special introductory rates.

For just £50 per month for the first three months, traders will be able to get off to a flying start by benefitting from regular shoppers and visitors to the market as well as the additional footfall generated by the market’s annual calendar of events.

Smaller stalls are also available from just £6 per day and ideal for start-up businesses or those who simply want to get a taste of running their own business.

But you'll have to be quick: the special rate is only available for those who take up a stall before the end of March.

To be eligible for the offer, new traders must be bringing something new to the market.

"Morecambe's Festival Market presents an ideal opportunity for people to get a taste of what it's like to run their own business or expand on an existing one," says Councillor Jon Barry, who is Cabinet member with responsibility for Lancaster City Council markets.

"As well as being popular with local people, the market also benefits from a whole host of events taking place in the town as well as being just a stone's throw away from Morecambe promenade." 

Anyone wishing to benefit from the introductory rate of £50 for a full stall for the first three months (other costs may apply) or a half stall should register their interest by completing the on-line form at www.lancaster.gov.uk/traderinterest or by contacting the Market Office - tel. 01524 414251.

  • A list of commodities the market wishes to introduce this year and more information about the market can be found at www.lancaster.gov.uk/festivalmarket

Caton Road weekend closure announced for major reconstruction work under Motorway Bridge



A critical section of Caton Road (A683) will unavoidably have to close to allow major reconstruction and resurfacing to take place.

On the weekend of Friday 16th to Monday 19th January 2015, Costain, the contractors appointed to build the Heysham to M6 Link Road, will need to close off the section of Caton Road directly under the M6 motorway bridge for resurfacing works as part of the scheme.

Following liaison with the county council's highways team, Stagecoach, and the Police, engineers will close the road between the M6 sliproads north and south, located either side of the M6. Although diversion signs will be erected, its important drivers familiarise themselves with alternative routes, and plan ahead.

The road will close from 8.00pm on Friday 16th until 6.00am on Monday 19th January 2015. Engineers will work round the clock to completely re-construct the road surface which is long overdue.

Motorway traffic will be diverted to the next junction depending on the direction drivers wish to travel on the M6. For example; southbound traffic from Lancaster will need to go north to junction 35 and then turnaround, likewise northbound traffic from Caton will also need to head in the opposite direction initially before re-joining the M6 at junction 33. Northbound traffic from Lancaster and southbound traffic from Caton should use the sliproads as normal.

Non-motorway traffic such as tractors, scooters, and learner drivers must use Low Road and Halton Road from the Crook O’Lune. Lancaster traffic bound for Caton will need to use the A6, Halton Road and Low Road.


Journey
Instruction
Travelling from Lancaster to the north on the M6
Not affected – use sliproad as normal
Travelling from Lancaster to the south on the M6
Use the northbound entry to junction 35, exit and re-join M6 south.
Non-motorway traffic travelling from Lancaster to Caton
Take A6 north, turn right at Aldrens Lane after fuel station and follow diversion.
Travelling from Caton to the north on the M6
Use the southbound entry to junction 33, exit and re-join M6 north.
Travelling from Caton to the south on the M6
Not affected – use sliproad as normal
Non-motorway traffic travelling from Caton to Lancaster
Turn right onto Low Road
(Crook O’Lune) and follow diversion.
Travelling to Lancaster from the north on the M6
Exit M6 at junction 33
Follow diversion returning to junction 34 and take the northbound exit.
Travelling to Lancaster from the south on the M6
Not affected – use sliproad as normal
Travelling to Caton from the north on the M6
Not affected – use sliproad as normal
Travelling to Caton from the south on the M6
Exit M6 at junction 35
Follow diversion returning to junction 34 and take the southbound exit.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Lancaster University seeks 1960s staff and alumni for oral history project

Lancaster University Rag Week Parade 1966

Early memories of life at Lancaster University will be captured in a unique collection to be preserved for generations to come.

As a fitting conclusion to its 50th anniversary year, the University is organising an oral history project to capture early first-hand memories of its origins.

Founding members of staff, alumni from the early years and local residents who lived in the Lancaster area in the 1960s are invited to join in the creation of this permanent record, the ‘Lancaster University Origins’ project, coordinated by the University’s Honorary Archivist, Marion McClintock.

“Most people are always fascinated by origins,” says Marion McClintock. “They like to look back to the beginning. The beginning always informs what comes afterwards. Any human activity is always a formative and crucial moment.

“We do not have particularly good records of how people viewed the University in those early days so it would be excellent if we could capture that for the future while those relevant people are available.

“We should like to hear what was it like to be in at the start of the University as a member of staff, as a student, or as a resident of this area watching in surprise as the new development at the south side of the city developed.”

The ‘Origins’ project focuses on personal recollections and views, the roles people performed, what they felt about the University at the time and what they think about it today.

Interviews, to be carried out by a current student, will take about an hour and the content will be transcribed, indexed and put on the university’s web site providing both a visual and audio account for future generations.

The intention is to leave the project in an open-ended state so that more interviews can be added later.

• If you are interested in taking part in this project, please contact Anne Rothwell in the University Press Office a.rothwell@lancaster.ac.uk in the first instance or call her on 01524 592646 with your name and contact information.



Rip-Off Railways? Lancaster Labour candidate slams rail fare rises

Cat Smith at Lancaster Railway Station
Cat Smith, the Labour candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood, has hit out at new rail fare rises which mean season tickets for people living in Lancaster up by as much as 29% per cent since 2010.

Since 2010, she notes, the Coalition Government has allowed the train companies to hit passengers in Lancaster with massive fare rises of over 20 per cent since 2010. The new fare rises came into effect on 2nd January 2015.

Locally, a season ticket from Lancaster to Manchester has gone up by 23%, from £2,648 to £3,264. And, a season ticket from Morecambe to Lancaster for people has gone up by 29%, from £416 to £536.

As the run up to the General Election begins in May, Cat  says she will campaign for a better deal for passengers and taxpayers, arguing this can be achieved by reforming the railways, simplifying the ticketing system and enforcing a strict cap on fares on every route.

Labour say they will give passengers a voice in how the railways are run and stop passengers getting fleeced at ticket machines by making it a legal right for passengers to be sold the cheapest available ticket for their journey.

“David Cameron is presiding over a rip-off railway in Britain," says Cat. "He has failed to stand up for working people in Lancaster struggling with the cost‐of‐living crisis and has allowed the train companies to hit passengers with massive fare rises of over 20 per cent since 2010.

“Some season tickets for passengers living in Lancaster have now risen by over 29 per cent under this Government, forcing people to pay thousands of pounds more to commute to work on increasingly overcrowded trains.

“Out‐of‐touch Ministers talk about 'fair fares for comfortable commuting', but this is a world away from the reality for millions of hard‐up commuters living in Lancaster.”

• In 2012, both sitting Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw and Morecambe MP David Morris voted to allow individual rail fares to be increased by more than the amount of the Government's cap on average increases. The majority of MPs voted to allow rail fares to be increased by more than the amount of the Government's cap on increases.

At the time of the vote the Government's cap applied to the average rail fare so enabled some fares to rise in excess of the cap if they were balanced by decreases elsewhere.