Friday, 22 October 2010

Life Begins at 40 for local Who fans

Life Begins at 40, a new book by local Doctor Who fans Chris Newton and Mark Charlesworth, is the story of two 30-something fanatics sharing a flat in Blackpool, out of pocket, out of luck and clinging to the hope that Life Begins at 40...

It's now available on pre-order from publishers Hirst and the authors tell virtual-lancaster they hope to organise some signings locally on release, including one in Lancaster.

Jeff is a barman, constantly forestalling marriage to his neurotic new-age girlfriend, preferring the company of Pete, an agoraphobic misfit with some serious baggage. United by their social detachment and love of Doctor Who, their world view is tainted by too much cult TV, and the walls between reality and fantasy begin to blur, with hilariously disastrous consequences.

With middle-age fast approaching, can they really spend the rest of their lives hiding behind the sofa? Life Begins at 40 deals with the big questions. Should we get married? Are children a good idea? And, in the future, will we all be walking around with one eye and no arms from too much teleporting?

With a foreword by Doctor Who star Sophie Aldred, Life Begins at 40 is hilarious and essential reading for Doctor Who fans, anyone who sees middle age looming, or anyone who loves a good laugh. The book is available for pre-order, and if you buy it now you'll be lucky enough to get a signed and dedicated copy with your name in the credits before the book hits the shelves!

• To pre-order your copy (price £9.99) go here  on

• To read Pete and Jeff's fictitious blog go to:

New movie celebrates Morecambe Bay's heritage

A new movie celebrating Morecambe Bay released on DVD and launched at Morecambe's Platform venue next month.

This event, hosted by award winning heritage film director Chris Abram, is very unique and features film and photographic material going back to early Victorian times. Playing for the delight of the audience as they arrive will be Morecambe Bay Brass.

Morecambe Bay Our Heritage is a double DVD telling of the heritage of Morecambe Bay from Fleetwood, through Glasson Dock, Heysham, Morecambe, Hest Bank, Bolton-le-Sands, Carnforth and along the coast via Silverdale and Arnside. It ends with a unique video tour around Levens Hall and gardens, the oldest topiary gardens in the UK, given by its owners Susie and Hal Bagot and their head gardner, Chris Crowder.

Featuring priceless vintage film dating back to 1901 and postcards going back even further, the film follows other award winning films from Chris Abram - The Lune Valley – Our Heritage and Bittern Country – Our Heritage, about Carnforth and the Arnside/Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and features lots of aerial filming as well as stunning high definition videography.

"Morecambe Bay is a beautiful area of Britain, the second largest tidal bay in the UK," says Chris, talking about the film on the Morecambe Bay Movie Makers web site, "fringed on one side by the magnificent peaks of the Lake District and on the other by the Arnside/Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the traditional seaside resort of Morecambe.

"Morecambe Bay – Our Heritage will also feature footage of the last horse and cart shrimper, shrimping by boat and also unique footage that I have taken of two of the last remaining Haf Net fishermen in the estuary of the River Lune. This is where they stand up to their chests in the estuary with wide nets on a long pole and catch the salmon as the tide comes in."

• Morecambe Bay Our Heritage DVD launch is at The Platform 7.00pm 23rd November. Tickets are only £6 and available from The Platform Booking Office, Tel 01524 582803 and from Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres.

Morecambe Bay Movie Makers web site

Morecambe MP calls for alternative to possible job cuts to Police Community Support Officers

Hot on the heels of Lancashire Constabulary's announcement of possible redundancies for all Police Community Support Officers in the county (see news story), Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons that argues  the proposal makes the wrong kind of cuts to services.

An Early Day Motion is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament for debate "on an early day" (namely an unspecific date in the future).

In his EDM, Mr Morris takes the view that Lancashire Police could cut back office bureaucrats rather than frontline PCSOs.

Noting that Lancashire Police Constabulary have begun consulting on making PCSOs redundant, the EDM, which will be put forward on Monday also notes the importance of community policing and the government’s insistence that budget cuts should not fall on frontline staff.

The EDM states Mr Morris belief that cuts could be made by reducing bureaucracy and waste; and requests the Chief Constable of Lancashire to look at streamlining Police administration instead of cutting the frontline; and further requests that Lancashire Police Authority organise an urgent meeting between the full authority and local MPs so that alterative cuts in bureaucracy can be proposed.

Controversial EDMs won't be signed by Government Ministers, PPS or the Speaker of the House of Commons and very few are debated on the floor of the Chamber of the House. EDMs remain open for signature for the duration of the parliamentary session.

Cuts Casualties? All PCSOs placed ‘at risk’ by Lancashire Constabulary

After the government's massive cuts announcements earlier this week, the real and potential casualties of the Comprehensive Spending Review are already beginning to rise, with all Lancashire's Police Community Support Officers told their jobs may go by March next year.

Nicknamed "Blunkett's Bobbies" after the Home Secretary who introduced them in 2002, all PCSOs in Lancashire were told earlier today that their jobs might be disestablished on March 31st 2011 amidst increasing uncertainty over future funding.

The news comes despite the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice Nick Herbert's past support of PSCOs, condemning a reduction numbers back in 2006 - but who now appears to be leaving final decision making to chief constables.

Trade union UNISON has condemned the potential redundancies, calling them "devastating". 

The Constabulary pays for its 427 PCSOs through a central government grant or by funding received from partners such as local councils but there is no certainty at present that either of these avenues will continue after the end of the financial year.

Pay for PCSOs varies from force to force, usually starting at just over £16,000 a year, rising to £22,000, with the most experienced officers earning around £25,000.

While there has been some criticism from the right wing press of their effectiveness (quite coincidentally, we're sure, in the run up to the Government's CSR announcement), for many the officers are a welcome addition to law enforcement, helping the police with intelligence gathering, particularly for 'low level' crime such as anti social behaviour, graffiti, litter, abandoned vehicles and  vandalism.

PCSOs have different roles in different forces, but they usually patrol a beat and interact with the public, while also offering assistance to police officers at crime scenes and major events.  Although based at a police station, they spend most of their time out on patrol, working outdoors in all weathers. They also visit homes and workplaces on their patch.

The Lancaster and Morecambe district has about 40 PCSOs, of whom 10 are part funded via the Lancaster District Community Safety Partnership, set up in 1998 under the Crime and Disorder Act which put a statutory duty on agencies to work together to reduce crime, disorder, antisocial behaviour on a district wide basis.

Supporters argue the officers offer an approachable face for the public, have local knowledge and a genuine interest in and commitment to neighbourhood issues as well as the time to support victim and tackle anti-social behaviour

With an estimated £50 million to find over the next four years, as confirmed in the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement,  Lancashire Constabulary, which employs some 3,649 full-time police officers,  knows it will not be able to find any additional money to cover the funding gap – which would amount to some £220,000 per week - and so has taken a decision to start formal consultation proceedings with the Trade Unions.

The constabulary says taking this action now means that the force would be able to reduce the number of PCSO posts quickly should it need to from 1st April 2011 and therefore avoid a situation of making its financial position worse.

“This is a hugely regrettable position for us as we place a great deal of importance on the role our PCSOs play in Lancashire," commented Chief Constable, Steve Finnigan, "and we know that many members of the public feel the same way.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but reflects the seriousness of the financial position surrounding the funding of PCSOs and the current lack of clarity.

“However, unless we start this formal consultation process now, we run a very significant risk of finding ourselves in a position where we are putting an even greater burden on our finances, and those of the public purse, by being left with posts we simply cannot afford.

“This 90 day consultation notice does not mean that all our PCSOs are going to be made redundant or in fact lose their jobs because we can’t be clear on that at the moment. But it does pave the way for us to act quickly if we need to once we have the clarity over the government funding.”

Mr Finnigan added that he and his colleagues would continue to work tirelessly to keep hold of as many PCSO posts as possible and to work hand in hand with the Trade Unions.

"We are very disappointed that it has been necessary to take this step," added Chair of the Lancashire Police Authority, Malcolm Doherty, " and stress that it does not mean that all PCSOs will disappear from the streets where they play such an important role in the Neighbourhood Policing Teams.

"Work will continue with the Constabulary and our partners to enable us to retain as many PCSO posts as we possibly can.

“However, the magnitude of the financial challenges ahead and the uncertainty over future funding for PCSOs mean that we have to be realistic and consider all the options available to us. By making this move at this time, we will be able to react swiftly if we need to.

“We appreciate that this will be a very stressful period for those involved and we will work with the Trade Unions and other staff welfare groups to ensure anyone affected receives a high level of support.”

Responding to the announcement UNISON Lancashire Police Branch says it believes the cuts will devastate the lives of many of their members and they will fight to retain these jobs which are so vital to our communities.

“We understand why the Constabulary has had to make this very serious and difficult announcement,"
Maureen Le Marinel Branch Secretary of UNISON said. "This government has cut policing budgets so severely that the employer claims they have no other option but to make this announcement today.  

"The Coalition Government is reneging on its election pledges to support its communities in its ‘Big Society’," she added. "Let’s be clear - PCSO’s are value for money.   They are the visible presence on our streets dealing with local crime, anti-social behaviour and gathering vital intelligence.

"UNISON believes there are alternative choices this government should consider.  Putting people out of work will not make our economy stronger-  it will weaken society.  Crime will increase as we lose the vital contribution PCSO’s make on our streets and in our communities.

"We will not stand by and let this happen.”

Nationally, there were 16,814 (full-time equivalent) Police Community Support Officers in the 43 forces of England and Wales as at 30 September 2009. Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate in July Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice Nick Herbert told the audience the Government wanted PCSOs to be a "continuing as part of the policing family" and useful in "offering reassurance in neighbourhoods, well supplemented by the wider responsibilities that a neighbourhood policing team has to fulfil."

However, he also warned there were not "limitless resources for policing.

"There never were - and the situation is tough."

• More about the role of PCSOs at

PSCO Powers (2008)

• Unofficial PCSO forum:

Police Service Strength England and Wales, 31 March 2010

Policing in the 21st Century Consultation

Wanted man may be in Morecambe area

Wanted: William Robert Leech, who may
be in the Morecambe area.
Hot on the heels of news of a successful arrest of a wanted man comes an appeal from York police, who are hoping the public can help to locate a wanted man who may be in the Morecambe area.

William Robert Leech, aged 30, of Barfield Road, York, is wanted for recall to prison for breaching the terms of his licence.

Leech is white, around 6ft tall with short black hair. He has friends in Morecambe and it's believed that he is currently staying in the area.

Detective Sergeant Mark Jackson, of York CID, said: “I am appealing for anyone who knows Leech’s whereabouts or anyone who sees him to call the police or Crimestoppers.

“There is no suggestion that he poses a danger to the public, however he should not be approached if sighted.

“We need information about where he is, so I would be grateful if the public could keep an eye out for him and let us know if they see him.

“The sooner he is back in custody the better.”

• Anyone who knows where William Leech is or sees him, is urged to contact DS Mark Jackson, of York CID, on 0845 60 60 24 7. Alternatively, Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Wanted man arrested after months at large

Wanted Heysham man Joseph Almond,  who failed to appear at Preston Crown court in July   (see news story) was arrested at Beacon Fell, Longridge on the 13th October 2010 and is now is back in Preston Prison.

Joseph Almond

Almond was wanted in connection with an assault and a burglary in Morecambe back in June, as well as in connection with a burglary in Folkestone, Kent.

The 34-year-old failed to appear at Preston Crown court to face an allegation of burglary in July and was wanted on prison recall from 25th June 2010. He was jailed for 12 months in August 2009 for throwing a mobile phone into Preston prison.

Almond previously lived in Bold Street, Heysham. In December 2009 he was wanted in connection with mobile phones being smuggled into Lancaster Castle Prison.

• View details of other people who are currently wanted by police at  Information can be passed to the police on 0845 1 25 35 45, or details can be passed anonymously via Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

In Review: Dancing at Lughnasa (Lancaster Footlights)

Set two miles outside the Donegal village of Ballybeg in 1936, Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa is a sad play. And this sadness is rendered particularly poignant through dramatic irony: the narrator, Michael, tells us much of what will happen before it actually has. The reason Michael (Andy Dobel) can do this is because he is the son of one of the five sisters, Chris (Maria Major), and hence the nephew of the other four: Kate (Lesley Edkins), Maggie (Paula Baldwin), Agnes (Louanne Hayhurst) and Rose (Jo Barlow), and because he is telling the story as an adult. This works well: black-clad Michael's temporal distance is also shown through the other characters forming tableaux when he addresses the audience; when the sisters are addressing him as a child, he actually stands just behind them. Excellent direction here by Ros Bentley.

But even without Michael's advance warnings, unsustainability and signs of demise are there from the start. The main characters Time and Social Change are not listed in the programme. Eldest sister Kate is trying to keep the family together, surviving economically (just) and respectable in the eyes of the community, always guided by the Catholic church. But the forces against her are several, and strong. Michael, much-loved, is indeed a love-child, and his father's (Tom O'Beirne) occasional visits bring with them reminders of his native Wales, of travel, of the Spanish Civil War, and promises of gifts. The sisters' brother (actually Father) Jack (Bryan Wood) has recently returned from church work in Uganda, dismissed because of his embracing of local spiritual practices - which the disoriented Jack (who speaks as if he were still in Uganda) narrates to his sisters in shocking detail.

Even Ballybeg has its own 'Back Hills people', who celebrate the Festival of Lughnasa in distinctly non-Catholic fashion. Economically, changes are about to put an end to Agnes' and Rose's contribution to the tiny family income from knitting endless pairs of grey gloves. And then there is the new Marconi radio, which lets music into the house: not when anyone switches it on, but in an entirely unpredictable, uncontrollable manner. And music means dancing, and more dancing, which Kate tries to limit, but never completely succeeds - even in herself.

There are internal tensions too. Although the five female actors do an excellent job of presenting the family as loving and caring people who look after each other, they also show Maggie as far from indifferent to Gerry, and Gerry himself as having (and as always having had?) an eye for Agnes as well as Chris. The simple-minded Rose spends several hours alone with a married man and the sisters have very different ways of dealing with this. Kate longs for Father Jack to say Mass again and to bring some renewed respect for the family, but this is clearly not going to happen. Indeed, his embarrassing presence leads to Kate losing her job as a parish school teacher.

Much of the acting is excellent and worthy of a professional production, and I would single out Paula Baldwin, Maria Major and Andy Dobel here. Paula Baldwin in particular does full justice to those lines in which the monotony, predictability and poverty of the sisters' lives is treated with a bitter humour. The sisters' Irish accents (at least to this reviewer with an English accent) were convincing - and full marks go to dialect coach Caro Kelly here.

Acts 1 and 2 both just occasionally felt a little laboured, perhaps because of insufficient changes of pace in delivery. But this is a small gripe. Ros Bentley's Dancing at Lughnasa is a serious and moving production, well worth the price of the ticket.

Remaining Dates:

Friday Oct. 22, 7.3o p.m.
Saturday Oct. 23, 7.30 p.m.

Tickets £8.50 (£7.50 concessions)

Lancaster Grand Theatre
St. Leonardgate
Lancaster LA1 1NL

Boc office 01524 64695

More about Dancing at Lughnasa on Wikipedia

eNotes: Dancing at Lughnasa Study Guide

More freedom for Councils on transport - or will they take the blame for service cuts?

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris  challenged the Government on its commitment to public transport this week - especially buses - asking what the Department of Transport is doing to encourage bus companies to increase the number of services they provide in rural and small town locations.

In response, referring to a separate answer to another Conswrvative MP earlier this month, Norman Baker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), has suggested that Councils will have a greater role to play in future local public transport planning.

(Whether they will have any money for this, of course, is another matter...)

"It is local authorities that are best placed to ensure that rural communities are able to access jobs and essential services-by bus, flexible services such as dial-a-ride, or by bringing services directly to the door," feels Mr Baker. "They have a statutory duty to produce local transport plans, which we believe remain the best way for authorities to plan transport strategy and delivery."

There also seems to be some vague hope on the part of the Government that 'unviable' routes will be supported by voluntary services.

"In areas where frequent public transport services are not commercially viable, the voluntary and community sector have a large role to play in delivering long-term sustainable alternatives," he suggests," a hint, perhaps, that village communities may soon be fighting to keep public bus services. "The Government are committed to supporting partnership working between local authorities, commercial providers and the voluntary sector that delivers tailor made local services.

"Rather than prescribing one method from Whitehall, we will therefore provide greater funding freedoms and flexibilities at a local level. As part of this approach, the Government recently announced a Local Sustainable Transport Fund which will support local transport and encourage more sustainable travel solutions based on local need."

Despite these reassurances the answer does seem to suggest worrying times ahead for Councils who will bear the brunt of protest as local public transport budgets are cut - rather then the Government, which seems to be passing the buck when it comes to removing public services.

Lancastrians Protest Public Spending Cuts as Job Losses Loom

About 300 demonstrators flocked to a Lancaster Town Hall yesterday evening to protest public spending cuts. The gulf between rich and poor grew considerably wider yesterday as massive cuts to public services were outlined by home-flipping multimillionaire Conservative Chancellor George Osborne.

Local councils are expected to have their funding cut by 28 per cent over the next four years, in addition to previous cuts, which threatens a broad range of local services, resources and jobs (and, we suggest, undoubtedly spells the end for Salt Ayre Leisure Centre).

The Universities face similar grant reductions and the axing of the Education Maintenance Grant for the poorest 16-18 year old students means the closure of pathways to higher education for many, regardless of ability.

Against a continuous background noise of supportive hooting from passing traffic, speakers from local Trades Unions and political groups argued from the Town Hall steps that the financial crisis was not caused by profligacy in the public sector but by irresponsible and amoral practices which still persist in the private finance sector, and the subsequent £1.3 trillion bail-out.

In addition poorly negotiated Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals imposed on the public sector placed an intolerable burden on the state despite their poor performance compared to public sector services. PFI, they argued, served merely as a conduit to channel public money away from taxpayers into private pockets.

They argued that the deficit had given the Conservative government an excuse to "do what they always wanted to do": demolish and privatise public services while shifting wealth and resources to the super-rich.

Cuts are expected to affect the poorest 10% of the population the most, with them estimated as paying up to 5 per cent more tax on their income than the richest 10 per cent, in addition to loss of a wide range of welfare benefits.

Further action is planned locally as the City Council determines over the next few weeks how local cuts will implemented and discussions are taking place nationally regarding the possibility of a General Strike next spring.

• A public meeting entitled ‘Their Debts, Our Cuts’ is also planned at the Gregson at 7.30pm Wednesday 24 November.

• The Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts Facebook campaign site can be visited at

Crime generally continues to fall in Lancashire, but sexual and drug offences rise

On the day after the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced swingeing cuts to public services, including the police, Home Office crime statistics released today show that Lancashire is still a very safe place to live, with police officers and police staff continuing to achieve higher than average reductions in crime.

The figures would appear to suggest that the levels of policing have done much to keep crime figures falling. Lancashire Constabulary previously announced it would need to find £50 million and lose around 1,000 people over the next four years, if 25% cuts to policing were announced by the Government in the Comprehensive Spending Review and although the announced cuts now appear to be lower, savings will still have to be made.

From June 2009 to June 2010, there was a 9.6 per cent reduction in crime or 11,153 less victims across the county, in comparison to the same period the year before. This compares to the national average of 8 per cent less crimes.

Crimes of public concern, such as burglary and criminal damage, have been reduced significantly, with house burglary down by 16.7 per cent or 871 crimes, a figure significantly above the national average of 8 per cent. Other burglary offences fell by 7.6 per cent or 618 crimes and criminal damage fell by 19.5 per cent or 5,747 crimes.

Violent crime has been reduced too, with violence against the person having fallen by 5.9 per cent or 1,390 crimes; and violence with injury having fallen by 11.9 per cent or 1,441 crimes. Robbery too has been reduced by 23 per cent or 195 crimes.

Reductions in vehicle crime have also been achieved, with offences against vehicles down 19.5 per cent or 2,359 crimes.

Fraud and forgery fell by 1.1 per cent or 35 crimes; and other theft offences fell by 3.2 per cent or 867 crimes.

There was an increase in sexual offences of 24.1 per cent or 285 crimes. This mirrors a national trend, and is partly explained through increased reporting, with victims of sexual offences encouraged to come forward.

Sexual Offences are broken down into Serious Sexual Offences and Other Sexual Offences, the majority of the increase in Sexual Offences was in the category of Other Sexual Offences, an increase of 23.5% (220 crimes) in comparison with the 12 month period to June 2009 (up from 937 to 1,157).

Drugs offences also showed an increase. These offences are up by 10.6 per cent or 504 crimes, but officers believe this can be explained by more people coming forward with information, as a result of increased public confidence in the ability of police to take action.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan said: “Today’s Home Office figures show that year-on-year, we are continuing to reduce crime, which is very good news for the people of Lancashire.

“Crime levels are currently extremely low, which makes our county one of the safest places in the country to live and work.

“It is really reassuring to know that fewer people are becoming victims of crime, and it is also encouraging to see through our detection figures that our grip on offenders is tightening. They clearly demonstrate that if you commit crime in Lancashire, the chances are you will be caught.”

Mr Finnigan praised the public as well as partner agencies for their help to reduce crime and increase detections. He also urged them to keep up the good work.

He said: “We couldn’t have achieved this success without help from our partners, and from members of the public, so I want to say a big thank-you to them. They have played a key role in our success; each in their own different ways, by giving us information for example, or by working with us to take action.

“Their assistance has made all the difference, and as we move forward over the coming months and years, which will no doubt be very challenging, we will need this continued support even more.”

Alluding to proposed cuts to police budgets, Mr Finnigan said: “Lancashire has always been known for high performance, and that needs to remain the case as we enter into this period of unprecedented change. We will continue to focus on reducing and detecting crime, anti-social behaviour and on protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

Malcolm Doherty, Chair of Lancashire Police Authority, said: “The continued reduction in crime means that Lancashire residents are even less likely to become a victim of crime, which is good news for our communities.

“At a recent meeting of the Authority, Members also noted the consistently high levels of detections achieved by the Constabulary, meaning that people committing a crime in Lancashire stand a good chance of being caught.”

County Councillor Doherty added: “Lancashire is consistently in the top ten performing forces for detection rates, and between April and September 2010, the Constabulary achieved a detection rate of 36.8%, which places it at the top of its most similar group of Forces for all detections. This illustrates the commitment and professionalism of our officers and staff.”

Lancashire Constabulary: Difficult times ahead but Constabulary will continue to bear down on crime, says Lancashire's chief

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"Serious Challenges" ahead for local university as cuts announced

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cumbria has warned that Higher Education faces "serious challenges" after Coalition government announced cuts for the sector.

The Chancellor George Osborne has announced that the higher education budget will be cut by 40 per cent in today's Comprehensive Spending Review, with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - which is responsible for further and higher education - seeing its budget fall by 21%, from £18.6 billion this year to £14.6 billion in 2014-5.
"The Government's comprehensive spending review has raised serious challenges for the Higher Education sector," commented University of Cumbria Vice Chancellor Professor Graham Upton.
"The University of Cumbria will now have to examine the proposals in detail and analyse the implications they have for us. We will need to do this alongside the recommendations in the Browne review of student finances which were published last week which proposed radical changes in the fees students will have to pay."

Education Investor reports that Treasury documents released today suggest that "reforming Higher and Further Education funding which will deliver broadly 65 per cent" of the £3 billion cuts in BIS's resource budget.
The higher education budget, excluding research funding, will fall by 40 per cent, from £7.1 billion at present to £4.2 billion by 2014-5.
"We have already begun to undertake scenario planning about how we might most effectively respond to these changes in Government funding and policy and will continue to do that over coming weeks as the specific implications of the proposals become clearer," the Vice Chancellor says.

"The future funding of Higher Education and student finance will impact on the sector and individual universities and students in different ways. At the University of Cumbria we are committed to widening participation and opening up opportunities for potential students. However, we recognise that increased tuition fees may provide universities with opportunities to generate increased revenue to further invest in facilities and services in support of a high quality student experience. It may be that increased tuition fees will have to be used to offset the predicted cuts in public investment in Higher Education.

"In preparing and agreeing our budget for 2010-11 and beyond we have already taken steps to anticipate and plan for potential cuts in our finances that might be signalled by the CSR," he added. "Working proactively, the university has already built into its budget planning a reduction in its grant funding of between 25 - 33% and this year, for the first time in our history we are projecting a surplus. I am confident that this surplus of £2 million is achievable as we have made provision for a range of contingencies, made no assumptions about additional income.

"Nonetheless the size and scale of the proposed reduction in funding that were announced today will have major implications for the Higher Education sector and like every other university we shall have to consider very carefully our response to the challenges that lie ahead."

In addition to Higher Education cuts, the further education budget will also be slashed, by 25 per cent, from £4.3 billion today to £3.2 billion in 2014-15. This is bound to have an impact on Lancaster and Morecambe College of Further Education.
The science budget, however, will be maintained in cash terms, which may help Lancaster Univerisity, which is strong in the technology and science fields. The government has also pledged to "boost spending on adult apprenticeships by £250 million a year", funding up to 75,000 extra apprenticeship places a year, which may offer new opportunities at Lancaster's Adult College.


Human skull find is cockle picking victim

Police have confirmed that a human skull found in Silverdale is that of a Chinese woman Liu Qin Ying who was believed to have lost her life along with her husband  in the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy.

The skull was found on the shoreline in Silverdale on 10th July this year and was taken to Royal Preston Hospital for examination.

Tests have indicated that it is the skull of 37-year-old Liu Qin Ying, who was reported as being amongst the missing cockle pickers on the evening of 4th February 2004 (see initial 2004 VL news story).  An inquest was opened on Wednesday, where the Coroner heard evidence of identification and was entirely satisfied that the skull was that of Liu Qin Ying.

The inquest has now been adjourned.

In April 2004 Lancashire Constabulary visited China and interviewed Liu’s mother and father. DNA samples were taken from them at the same time.  On returning to the UK, these samples were sent to the Forensic Science Service at Wetherby, where DNA profiles were obtained.

Comparisons of these profiles to that obtained from the human skull show that there is extremely strong evidence to suggest that this is Liu Qin Ying.

Detective Superintendent Steve Brunskill, who led the identification process for the Chinese cockle pickers in 2004, said: “My first responsibility is clearly to the family of Liu Qin Ying and, as such, I have contacted her family and informed them of this find.

"Clearly there are mixed feelings in relation to this; on the one hand, it now confirms that Liu was fishing on the night and lost her life alongside her husband, Xu Yu Hua [pictured left], whose body was recovered in the early hours of 6th February 2004. 

"On the other, it is further sad news for the family and those of us involved in the investigation in 2004."

"When I met the family, I was struck by their dignity in the face of losing both their daughter and son-in-law," he added. "The bodies of 21 victims of this tragedy were returned to China in November 2004 and I now hope that the remains of Liu Qin Ying can also be returned in the very near future.”

23 people died in the Cockling tragedy in 2004, caught in fast rising tides on Warton Sands at night on 5th February 2004. At least 26 children lost parents in the tragedy.

Gangmaster Lin Lian Ren, who sent his employees out on to the dangerous sands in the dark and cold to scour the area for cockles, which he then sold to restaurants, was jailed for 14 years for his part in the tragedy.

Ren "cynically and callously" exploited fellow Chinese nationals, recruiting desperate illegals for the back-breaking work in appalling weather. Despite making thousands of pounds from their work, he waited 50 minutes before calling rescue services when the disaster happened - and then fled the scene.

He was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter after a seven-month trial at Preston Crown Court in 2005.

Within months of the tragedy, BBC News reported Chinese cockle-pickers were back working in Morecambe Bay. English employers  gave assurances that all had legal paperwork. However locals in the Barrow area expressed serious concern that people were still going out to work after dark in a notoriously dangerous area. 

The Chinese Cockle Pickers 100-Day Memorial  (virtual-lancaster news feature)

Donald Reed's Poem 'To the Eaters of Cockles'

Ghosts: The Morecambe Victims Fund - pictures of the victims and information about them (this fund has now closed)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Howl with laughter for Hallowe'en at The Borough

Simon Bligh
If the thought of trick or treaters fills you with horror this Hallowe'en then The Lancaster Comedy Club will be providing the ideal solution! Avoid the thinly veiled threats of the youth of the locality by snuggling up in the upstairs room of The Borough pub and watch some of the best comics in the UK strut their stuff.

Liverpudlian Simon Bligh - described as "hyperactive" and "flannel free" by the national Guardian - wanted to be a plumber when he left school, his mother wanted to be a priest. Teaching seemed a safe compromise until Simon this Buddhist karate black belt became a stand up comic in the late Eighties. Since then he now has a Time Out Comedian Of The Year Award and Perrier Award nomination under his belt. His cheery, conversational manner and manic storytelling make him highly distinctive.

If Manchester's Des Sharples  looks familiar then you no doubt caught him in the feature film Looking For Eric alongside Eric Cantona. He also stole the telly from the pub in Phoenix Nights.

Ben van der Velde fills the middle spot and shows us why he has those in the know tipping him for big things!  Time Out magazine describes him as “highly promising" and "an accomplished comic.”

• Lancaster Comedy Club at the Borough: Sunday 31st October 2010, The Borough, 3-5 Dalton Sq., Lancaster LA1 1PP. Doors open at 7.45pm and the show starts at 8pm prompt with meal deals available for comedy customers. £8 or £6 in advance from The Borough or book online now:

Residents and businesses warned of dangers of identity theft

A Lancashire detective who has himself been the victim of identify theft is urging others to take precautions with their personal details at home and at work.

The officer’s warning comes as part of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, which is now in its sixth year.

Fraudsters gain £1,000 on average from every stolen identity, according to the National Fraud Authority, the government agency that runs Action Fraud. In very serious cases, it can take you 200 hours to repair the damage done to your identity – that’s the equivalent to a year’s annual leave.

Detective Constable Tony McClements, of Lancashire Constabulary’s economic crime unit, found his identity had been stolen to set up an account with an on-line DVD rental company.

“Identity theft is becoming a real issue now, with many innocent people falling victim to this crime," he said. "When my details were hijacked, I only discovered the problem after I spotted an unidentified payment on my monthly statement. It took several weeks and a lot of letter writing to rectify the issue.”

DC McClements explained that there were a number of steps that individuals – and businesses - can take to try and safeguard themselves. These include:
  • Shredding any correspondence that you are disposing of, especially utility bills and statements. Try to utilise a cross-cut shredder as these are more secure than straight shredders, although more expensive to buy.
  • Check credit card and banks statements regularly for any unidentified transactions.
  • If shopping online, it is advisable to use a credit card as (dependent on terms and conditions) this may afford you greater security in the event of identity theft.
  • Be wary of emails which look similar to those of your bank/ credit card company (known as ‘Phishing’) in which they purport to be conducting security checks. Never input your PIN number online nor give it out over the telephone. If you receive any such requests notify your bank immediately.
  • Protect your bank cards. If you apply for a new one or a replacement, keep track of the length of time it takes to arrive. If there is a delay, contact the issuer immediately. When a card arrives ensure you sign and activate it as soon as possible.
  • Keep track of the delivery of bank statement s- any delay could mean that the statement has been intercepted and somebody could be trying to steal your identity. Contact the issuer if there are any delays.
  • If you go an unusual length of time without receiving any post, contact Royal Mail Customer Care on 08457 740 740 to ensure that nobody has activated a ‘mail divert’ without your knowledge.
  • If you change address and telephone number(s), ensure you notify all your service providers. 
  • Keep safe online, ensure your computers have the latest anti-virus software in place and with all the latest updates installed.
DC McClements said: “Crime is low in Lancashire and there are steps that people can take to help us keep it that way. The National Identity Fraud Protection Week is an admirable campaign that we support in order to alert our community to this growing problem.

"If by doing so we can prevent members of the public and local businesses from falling victim to this type of fraud then it will be worthwhile.”

• For more advice visit or call 0300 123 2040.

Ron Freethy Book Signing in Carnforth

Author Ron Freethy will be signing his latest book, Memories of the Lancashire Fishing Industry, at Carnforth Bookshop, on 6th November.

Over the last 70 years or so, Lancashire's fishing industry has gone from boom in the 1940s to bust in the 1970s, and more recently to quotas and a more modest success. Ron describes shrimp and salmon netting based on Glasson Dock, cockle picking in Morecambe Bay; the Mersey fishing fleet, who used to catch the largest number of whitebait in Europe; and Fleetwood at one time home to many deep-sea trawlers and the third most important fishing port in Britain.

This book is a proud record of Lancashire's fishing heritage for those who were part of it and those too young to remember.

Barrow-born Ron is the author of numerous local books about Lancashire and Cumbria, including Lancashire versus Hitler: Civilians at War, Memories of the Lancashire Aircraft Industry and Lancashire - 1939-1945 - The Secret War.

• Carnforth Bookshop is at 38 - 42 Market Street, Carnforth PR6 8AW. Telephone: 01524 734588. Email: Web:

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Business Network Launches in Lancaster

Michelle Malkin,
founder of Business
Network Lancaster
An entirely new concept in networking, whose organiser says has generated tens of millions of pounds worth of business for entrepreneurs in other parts of the country, is being launched in Lancaster.

The Business Network Lancaster, part of the larger Business Network North, is the brainchild of  business woman Michelle Malkin, and will throw open its doors to potential new members at the Lancaster House Hotel on Thursday 21st October.

Founder Michelle is convinced it will help local companies fight back from the economic challenges of recent times. Business Network North has been running for 15 years and has local groups in cities such as Chester, Manchester and Liverpool.

“The Business Network model has worked exceptionally well in other parts of the country over the past 16 years, helping members to make valuable contacts and pass on business through targeted introductions," says Michelle, who has had many years experience in business on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Now that tried and tested formula is coming to the Lancaster region at a time when the economy is slowly beginning to start to grow again.

“The Business Network’s structured meetings provide an ideal forum for business men and women to meet, talk business and do business in comfortable surroundings."

Michelle, who was born in Maryland, moved and settled in the UK in 2003 following her marriage to her husband Tony. As a member of The Business Network, she says she has experienced the benefits of membership.

But why has a businesswoman from Stockport chosen to bring the concept to Lancaster?

“I love this region of the country," says Michelle, who has an office in Heysham. “But I also know this area has a vibrant business community. So when an opportunity came up for me to run a network of my own I had no hesitation in opting for the Lancaster region because I believe it will bring huge benefits to its entrepreneurs."

Doors will open for the first Business Network Lancaster luncheon on Thursday October 21 at the Lancaster House Hotel at 11.45 am. The event finishes promptly at 2.00pm. Attendees may also take advantage of a pre-lunch seminar which starts at 10 am and finishes in time for the lunch event. To register for a place at the inaugural meeting contact: Michelle on 07561 536537 or email  

New Morecambe Housing Co-op Seeks Members

Black Combe Housing Co-op are looking for likeminded people to join them in setting up and living in a new housing co-op in Morecambe.

The co-op members Stacey, Matt, Aurora and Rory explained, "We are all enthusiastic about creating a supportive community and want to hear from people who would like to become part of this project with us.

"We are looking for people who believe in working towards social change, in the many forms this can take, who are committed to a simple green lifestyle and who would be happy to live in a vegan house. The project is starting, so we need enthusiastic people that can commit time and energy to make it happen."

Members provisionally estimate that the cost of living in the co-op will be around £250 per month - including bills. If you think you'd like to get involved or if you want to find out more, you can contact Black Combe Housing Co-op by emailing stussie[AT] or phone 0785 814 8538 or 01524 381394.