Saturday, 5 December 2015

Lancaster MP Backs Small Business Saturday

Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, and Julie Ward, MEP for the North West of England, have joined Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle MP in celebrating the contribution of small firms in Lancaster as part of this year’s Small Business Saturday today, December 5th.

Consumers are being encouraged to ‘shop small’ and celebrate the contribution of entrepreneurs and small firms this weekend.

Launched in 2013, Small Business Saturday brought a boost to local high streets across the country. In 2014, 16.5 million Britons visited a local independent store – 2.7m more than on Small Business Saturday in 2013.

Cat and Julie are backing local businesses to take advantage of the campaign on a key shopping day in the year in the run-up to Christmas and encouraging local people to shop locally in small firms as part of Small Business Saturday. The day aims to give a long-term boost to trade and give a lift to the high streets.

“Lancaster as a city is renowned for its independent businesses," said Cat, "and I am looking forward to backing our local small shops on Small Business Saturday. We should do all we can to thank them for the vital contribution they make to the local economy."

Julie Ward MEP said: “I am particularly pleased to use the opportunity of Small Business Saturday to raise awareness of Fair Trade not least because 2015 has been designated the European Year of Development. Lancashire County is a pioneer of the Fair Trade movement with many towns proudly designated as Fair Trade Towns. Lancaster's Fig Tree, run by entrepreneur Bruce Crowther, demonstrates that businesses can be ethical in the sourcing of their products and remain viable. I would like to thank Bruce for the leadership he has shown at local, national and international level. We need more Small Business leaders like Bruce to step up to the mark and work with us to help alleviate poverty through Fair Trade."

Angela Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Small Business Saturday is growing bigger and better every year, it’s such an important day because it puts small businesses in the spotlight and encourages people to shop locally, not only on one of the busiest shopping days of the year but also to encourage a long-term commitment. It provides a great opportunity to thank those who run Britain’s small firms.

“Labour wants to do more to help our risk takers and wealth creators, by helping businesses with the challenges they face on issues like access to finance and late payments. We’ll work in partnership with businesses, entrepreneurs and workers to create a stronger economy.”

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Cat Smith: Syrian Air Strikes A Mistake

Cat Smith. Photo: Ben Soffa
Lancaster MP Cat Smith has outlined her opposition to British air strikes in Syria in a series of tweets.

She voted with the majority of Labour MPs against the motion to begin air strikes in Parliament last night.

"I voted against government motion to bomb," she said. "It won't make for a secure Syria and too many questions left unanswered by Cameron on [his] plan.

"When I voted against [the] government plan on #SyriaVote tonight I did so with a huge majority of Labour MPs and majority of shadow cabinet.

"I do not believe air strikes will make for a secure Syria or make us safer here which is why I voted against the government."

• Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris followed the party whip and backed air strikes. You can read his full statement here



Morecambe MP backs Air Attacks on Syria

Despite growing public concern at further war in the Middle East, Morecambe MP David Morris voted in favour of British air attacks on Syria in Parliament last night.

Mr Morris believes RAF weapons are so accurate they will only kill Islamic State militants.

Here is his statement in full, backing a military action that will cost at least £1.3 million a day to conduct - spending in a week what Lancashire County Council needs to keep 40 libraries open for a year.

Speaking after last night's vote David Morris MP said:

"Before today’s vote I had not decided how I would cast my vote after the debate. A number of factors were important to me, the views of my constituent’s, whether there was a UN mandate, the motion itself, the arguments placed by the Prime Minister and the opposition’s argument. I sat in the chamber and watched the debate and I thought that the Prime Minister made a strong case, with the backing of a UN resolution. The Leader of the Opposition made an extremely weak argument. I tried to intervene to ask him that even though no-one wants to go to war does he believe that doing nothing is really a serious option. He would not give way to me in the chamber and I do not believe he answered my concerns in his opening remarks.

"ISIL or Daesh are a real threat to our Country, the threat level of terrorism is already at the highest level it can be and doing nothing simply increases the chances of an attack, taking air action over time will decrease that threat, and will let Daesh know that their heinous ideology will not be tolerated

"I was reassured by the Prime Minister’s argument that the Government have been called to action by other Nation states and that the Government have a sufficient plan to carry out an effective campaign. I along with other Members would not support our troops on the ground in Syria but I do believe that we have unique missiles, which are so accurate, innocent civilians in Syria will not be affected. I am pleased that the Prime Minister confirmed that in Iraq there have been no reported casualties from British airstrikes in the year and three months we have been engaged in combat there.

"Doing nothing is simply not an option in my opinion. We have all seen the terrible scenes coming from the Mediterranean with refugees fleeing the horrors in Syria to come to Europe. Even though the UK is the second highest aid provider to Syria, until the political situation in Syria is addressed the refugee crisis will only escalate. The only way forward is to join a coalition of countries who are taking action to ensure that a newly elected democratic Government of Syria can be achieved. Defeating Daesh is the first step to this process.

"In short Daesh do not recognise the border between Iraq and Syria and in the sense of airstrikes nor should we. I am glad that the House has supported the Prime Minister and that Britain is playing its rightful part in the global force against Daesh supported by the UN resolution."

Lancaster MP Cat Smith was one of the 153 Labour MPs who voted against air strikes. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his MPs a free vote on the motion. 66 Labour MPs voted for air strikes.

Seven Tory MPs defied their whips and voted against airstrikes.





Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 2nd to 10th December 2015

Suffragette poster.jpgFor 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 eight new releases for early December, all but two being comedies. There is comedy drama with Christmas with the Coopers (12A); Dad's Army and Ricki and the Flash (12A). We have comedy horror with Krampus (15); comedy animation with Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (U) and science fiction comedy in The Lobster (15). For films with less comedic content there is drama with Radiator and horror in Victor Frankenstein (12A).

Movies lost from the screens include Minions and Steve Jobs. Also the movies Black Mass; Brooklyn and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension are nearing the end of their screening. We do however see the return of the Shakespeare comedy Bill.

With the coming of Christmas, there are family films in abundance. The old favourites Hotel Transylvania 2; Inside Out and Pan continue to entertain along with the more recent The Good Dinosaur and the newly released The Peanuts Movie. For adult humour there is The Lady in the Van; Christmas with the Coopers; Dad's Army and for one night only The Lobster.

Mainstream drama is represented with Bridge of Spies; Suffragette; Spectre and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2.

In addition, there is a good selection of culture on offer with ENO: The Mikado; Macbeth; NT: Jane Ayre and ROH: Cavalleria/Pagliacci.

Reviews

Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell
A cold war drama, based on a genuine incident. Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is a spy working for the Soviet Union who has been captured in the USA. He is to be put on trial and James Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer, is given the job of acting as his defence. Meanwhile, a secret American Spy plane is shot down in Soviet airspace and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Russians and convicted of espionage. Neither America nor Russia want their respective officers interrogated by the other side and hence Donovan is tasked with organising a prisoner exchange. This is a fine spy drama, more dialogue and politics than action but it succeeds in building the tension. Both Hanks and Rylance give excellent performances and Spielberg masterfully created the ambience of the cold war period.

Brooklyn
Director: John Crowley
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Glascott, Emory Cohen.
The movie is a period drama, based on the novel by Colm Toibin. Eilis Lacey (Ronan) grew up in Ireland, but her sister (Glascott) arranged for her to move to Brooklyn for a chance to find a better future. Initially homesick, Eilis finds lodgings, a job and subsequently romance in the form of Tony (Cohen) who she meets at a dance. However back home her sister Rose dies and her mother gets her to return to Ireland. Here Eilis must decide whether to continue with her life at home or to return to New York. The film has been well received and is marked by very strong acting. An excellent movie that will tug at the heartstrings.

Pan
Director: Joe Wright
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Garrett Hedlund
A prequel to the story of Peter Pan. Peter (Miller) is abandoned by his mother and brought up in an orphanage run by Mother Barnabus (Burke). He is captured by pirates and taken to the magical world of Neverland where he is forced into slave labour by Bluebeard (Jackman). Peter and his friend James Hook (Hedlund) manage to escape to the forest where Peter befriends the fairy Tinker Bell. The fairies fight and defeat the pirates and Hook becomes captain of the Jolly Roger ship. A rather bland and somewhat contrived movie.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Director: Gregory Plotkin
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Chris Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill
This is the sixth instalment in the Paranormal Activity series and it opens with a scene from Paranormal Activity 3. Ryan Fleege (Murray) moves into a new home in California along with his wife Emily (Shaw), daughter Leila (George) and his brother Mike (Gill). The two brothers discover a box of old VHS tapes filmed by a previous inhabitant of the property, starring two girls Katie and Kristi. These girls start to communicate with the current family by means of the TV set and various supernatural phenomena manifest within the house. Ryan brings in a priest to perform an exorcism, but things don't go to plan, leading to an unsettling conclusion.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott
The latest James Bond Movie. M engages in a political battle to keep the secret service, in the light of a plan by Max Denbigh (Scott) to replace the 00 program with computer surveillance. Bond meanwhile is trying to locate Franz Oberhauser (Waltz), the suspected head of the evil organisation 'Spectre'. The movie starts in Mexico during the Day of the dead celebrations and thence the action continues in London, Rome and Morocco. There are numerous over the top action sequences, car chases, a good assortment of scary villains and exotic love interest. However amid this harshness, the movie contains a good level of humour. Tension builds from the very start, though some of this starts to dissipate as the film progresses. This is James Bond from the classic mould and Daniel Craig delivers a great performance.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The concluding part of The Hunger Games series, based on the novels by Suzanne Colins. The movie continues from the previous film. Katniss (Lawrence) is recovering from battle, but she rejoins her comrades to bring the revolution to the Capital and President Snow (Sunderland). The Capital however is now peppered with booby traps awaiting for them. The film seems to move at a slightly slower pace than the previous instalments as there is a political element to the plot. Acting is very convincing, the special effects are spectacular and the plot has a good number of twists and turns. An excellent and emotional movie that provides a satisfying and worthy conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise.

The Lady in the Van
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
A true story, adopted from 1999 West End Play of the same name and filmed on location in North London. In 1974, Miss Shephard (Smith) is a woman looking for somewhere to park after being moved on the council. Playwright Alan Bennett agrees to her parking her van (which is also her accommodation) in his drive for a couple of days. However Miss Shephard then lived in the drive for the next fifteen years and the film shows the relationship between Bennett and his nuisance neighbour. This is a warm, charming and thoroughly fun movie.

Victor Frankenstein
Director: Paul McGuigan
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Finlay
The film is a remake of Mary Shelly's classic novel Frankenstein, this time told from the point of view of Igor Strausman (Radcliffe). Igor is a hunchback clown in love with trapeze artist Lorelei (Findlay). He starts to assist the genius Victor Frankenstein in his experiments in immortality. Victor becomes increasingly obsessed with his work re-animating different organs and this brings them into conflict with the authorities. Finally they commence the construction of Prometheus, a human being. This is an entertaining film but it brings very little of novelty to the Frankenstein legend. A tolerable film that is rather low on horror but offers something by way of period romance.

City Council Bin Collection and Other Christmas and New Year Information


There will be a number of changes to the availability of council services and facilities this Christmas.

Closure of public buildings

Lancaster and Morecambe town halls and the council's housing office on Cable Street, Lancaster will close for Christmas at 3pm on Christmas Eve and re-open at 9am on Tuesday December 29. On New Year's Eve, these buildings will close to members of the public at 3pm and re-open at 9am on Monday, January 4.

Christmas refuse and recycling collections

Don’t forget to check your collections calendar as there will be changes over the Christmas period to your normal waste and recycling collection days.  The changes come into force on Saturday December 19 and finish on Saturday January 2.

Normal Collection Day               Revised Collection Day

Monday 21 December                Saturday 19 December
Tuesday 22 December                Monday 21 December
Wednesday 23 December           Tuesday 22 December
Thursday 24 December               Wednesday 23 December
Friday 25 December                   Thursday 24 December
Monday 28 December                 Monday 28 December
Tuesday 29 December                Tuesday 29 December
Wednesday 30 December           Wednesday 30 December
Thursday 31 December               Thursday 31 December
Friday 1 January                           Saturday 2 January

If you have misplaced your collection calendar please visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/bins

To help you reduce the mountain of waste generated by Christmas festivities, below are a few simple tips to help you manage your additional waste including glass, cans, plastic bottles, cardboard, Christmas cards and wrapping paper, and not forgetting your food waste.

• Shop smart. Be aware of over packaged goods and recycle what you can.
• Plan your meals, make the most of your freezer and find leftover recipes at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com 
• Recycle all your glass bottles/jars, cans, foil, sweet/biscuit tins, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard (including gift wrap and Christmas cards) in your green recycling boxes

• Any unavoidable food waste can be placed in your green wheeled bin or kerbside caddy for composting.
• St Johns Hospice will be collecting real Christmas trees for a small donation to the Hospice please phone 01524 382538 or book online www.sjhospice.org.uk/recycletrees

• Real Christmas trees can otherwise be chopped up and placed in your green wheeled bin.

Markets

Charter Market, Lancaster

There will be slight changes to the opening times of Lancaster City Council's Charter Market during the festive period.

As the Charter Market's normal Saturday opening day will fall on Boxing Day, when the market will be closed, an extra market has been arranged for last minute Christmas shoppers on Christmas Eve (Thursday, December 24).

Assembly Rooms Emporium, Lancaster

The Assembly Rooms Emporium on King Street, Lancaster will be open for business as usual – Tuesday – Saturday but closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Saturday, January 2.  Anyone on the look-out for a fancy dress costume with a difference this Christmas will find a wide range of authentic vintage and period costumes and accessories for hire as well as a range of gifts including ornaments, pictures, books, jigsaws and alternative clothing.

Opening times are Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 4.30pm and Saturday from 10am to 5.30pm (except Bank Holidays).

Festival Market

The Festival Market will be open every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (9am to 4.30pm) in the lead up to Christmas but closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

For information on the opening times of the council’s sport and leisure facilities including Williamson Park and Salt Ayre Sports Centre, visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/christmas-opening

Greens Condemn Proposals to Remove all Trees from Lancaster's Market Square

Lancaster Market Square. Photo: John Freeman

Green councillors have condemned a City Council report to recommending removal of all seven mature lime trees from Market Square, a decision that will be in the hands of just one single Labour member of cabinet - presumably either Janice Hansen or David Smith.

Marsh ward councillor and current mayor of Lancaster, Jon Barry, has previously argued strongly for retention of the trees in Market Square.

""Removal of the trees would make the centre of town a sterile and uninviting place," he argues. "They soften the stonework of Market Square and provide welcome shade in summer. In addition, they remove pollutants from the atmosphere and do their bit to remove carbon dioxide. Chopping down the trees would destroy 40 years of growth at a single step. The trees can easily be managed with some judicial pruning."

The future of the tress was previously discussed at cabinet in 2011. Then it was decided to remove one of the trees, which was replaced by two additional trees further down Market Street.

"This is a big decision for the City Council and it needs to be decided by the full cabinet meeting and not by a single member. People need to be given a chance to give their views on the trees."

One has to wonder if the criticised decision to relay Market Street and Market Square with stone that some find slippery when wet, exacerbated by wet leaves at this time of year, might also have influenced the recommendation. Cutting back the trees before winter might be a more agreeable solution.

UPDATE: In the comments to this story, the Lancaster BID team have posted the following: 

"
Lancaster City Council have approached us (Lancaster Business Improvement District) to consult with the businesses on their experiences of the trees situated in Market Square. Lancaster City Council are not proposing to remove the trees, but to replace them with a more suitable species for the space. The BID will communicate the opinions of the city centre businesses to the council, to ensure their views are heard."

Monday, 30 November 2015

Review: Haffner Orchestra

Haffner Orchestra
Saturday, 28 November 2015
In the Great Hall, Lancaster University

Reviewed by Henry Prince

In its new musical director, the orchestra has found someone who, himself standing on the shoulders of giants, has already begun to lift the orchestra to even greater heights. As a long-standing patron, I have witnessed the development of these players over many years. But I was astonished at the quantum leap of improvement achieved in such a short period under Justin Doyle.

The playing had an added crispness as well as a warmth which could only arise when 70 individuals play as a single organism. One felt that the music was flowing in visceral swells rather than splashing waves and that 100% participation was being asked from each player.

The “new feel” contributed greatly to the successes of the two principal works. Both the Grieg and the Rachmaninov were delivered smoothly with precision and with delicious changes in dynamics and tempi. I loved the passion and the accuracy equally.

The Symphonic Dances gave the woodwinds and brass a number of opportunities to showcase their brilliance and the piece provided a fitting climax for the evening. But the A minor concerto was my favourite.

Having such a superb soloist as Richard Uttley on the programme made the top ticket price of £14 a real bargain. I don’t know which I enjoyed hearing more, the expensive Steinway or the sweet orchestral sounds which accompanied it.

Haffner Orchestra
Everyone wanted to applaud at the end of the concerto’s first movement (and some did) but we were all pleased that more was to come. Indeed, the string writing at the beginning of the second movement and its gorgeous execution by these mainly amateur musicians was so beautiful that it was oddly somewhat disappointing when the piano rejoined. One wished for that luscious ensemble sound to go on and on and on.

The first piece on the programme must have been a huge rehearsal challenge. From the pen of the composer of the opera ‘Nixon in China’, it portrays a young Mao dancing the foxtrot with the future Madame Mao. It could be described equally well as a persistent clockwork mechanism or a driving steam locomotive with rattling parts. No doubt the score is stuffed full of letters which the conductor can shout out in rehearsal, or indeed discreetly in performance in times of desperation, ensuring that players know where they should be (or should have been). Such was the rhythmic complexity of the music that only the players themselves will truly know just how well it all went between staging posts, but, happily, on the night, the orchestra started and finished each section together.

I have only one serious criticism. More attention to intonation needs to be demanded from the low strings. If players can play in tune some of the time, then they are capable of playing in tune all the time.

The usual pre-concert talks are always good value. (No extra charge!) This time, the soloist spoke about himself and his life as a professional pianist. The Grieg concerto had been a favourite of his since he first heard it at a Proms concert when he was 10 years old. It was his first classical music concert and he decided there and then to make his living playing the piano. “How does one learn a concerto?” he was asked from the back of the hall. “Play it slowly and without the pedal,” he replied. I think he could well have added, “Continue to do that six to seven hours a day for the rest of your life.”

H. Prince


Haffner Orchestra’s website: http://www.haffnerorchestra.org

Concert Programme:
John Adams: The Chairman Dances
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto
Sergei Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

Tickets were priced:  Adults £14.00, Concessions £13.00, 18 and under free,
Students £5.00 on the door

Next Haffner Orchestra concert: Saturday, 27 February 2016, Great Hall, Lancaster University

Fury as Cuts in Council Funding Stepped up by Government

Cat Smith speaking at a recent meeting at Lancaster Priory. Photo: Ben Soffa
Cuts to local government funding in the latest government Spending Review will spell misery for Lancaster and Morecambe residents as both the City and County Councils are forced to make savings by cutting vital services, warns Lancaster's MP and City Council leader.

Both city council leader Elieen Blamire and Lancaster MP Cat Smith have now commented on the latest Review, announced last week by Chancellor George Osborne.

Welcoming the u-turn Osborne made on cuts to tax credits and policing budgets which have been key campaigns she has been fighting over the past weeks and months, MP Cat Smith saw no reason to celebrate any claimed "end of austerity" by the right wing press.

"Sadly those on Universal Credit will still see their living standards squeezed," she said, "and when we have already lost 17,000 police officers no further cuts to policing doesn't mean much to those police staff who have lost their jobs already.

"In addition deep cuts are being made to many departments that will have harmful consequences. Cuts to the Department of Transport and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for example, will have a detrimental impact on services and jobs locally."

"I'm concerned that, despite promises from the Prime Minister that he would have balanced the books by now the deficit is set to be almost £70 billion this year and that manufacturing output is still more that 6% below its pre-crisis level. The UK's current account deficit reached the highest level ever recorded last year - 5.1%.

"George Osborne is opening a deficit with the future. His choices will leave future generations to pick up the bill."

Last week, the County Council voted in favour of cuts to spending that could see the closure of the Judges Lodgings museum, 40 libraries across the county and further savings that will impact public transport users. Nearly 5000 people have now signed an online petition protesting at the planned museum closure.

The city council is also looking at making many savings.

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Whilst the Government has unexpectedly backed down from making cuts in some areas, notably working tax credits and police funding, unfortunately that doesn’t apply to local government services.

"Core funding is expected to reduce by 24% over the next few years, and this is on top of the cuts of 40% or so that we’re already managing. The overall scale of cuts being faced is unprecedented in living memory. Their effect cannot be underestimated and local government and the services it provides will be decimated as a result.

“We have already seen the likely effect that the government cuts are having on Lancashire County Council and libraries, museums, transport and the arts.

“The city council faces equally stark choices and over the next four years we are working on having to save up to £4million from our annual budget by 2019/20.

“Cabinet is due to meet next week and we will be discussing the outcome of the Autumn Statement, but we won’t know any detail until the Local Government Finance Settlement in December so it’s after this that we’ll be able to come forward with our proposals. Even then, there will still be uncertainties as the Government will be phasing in some of its other funding changes.

“But it is clear that we will be forced to make controversial and unpalatable decisions with services that people rely on having to close.”

You can sign the Judges Lodgings museum petition here