Friday, 9 August 2013

Local services count the cost of ATOS / DWP failings

Local charities and advisory services have told Virtual-Lancaster that they have been swamped with work resulting from the damage being repeatedly and routinely done to local sick and disabled people in need of state welfare benefits by Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) contractor Atos Healthcare.

The 'Work Capability Assessments' regularly carried out on claimants by Atos are supposed to determine if people previously deemed sick or disabled by their GPs are in fact 'fit for work'.  Atos' tests have been described as 'Not Fit For Purpose' in a report published by North Lancashire Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), who give a series of of examples demonstrating the damage being done on a routine basis to the most vulnerable local people.

A client came to the Bureau for help because he had failed his ESA medical.   He has learning difficulties, cannot read or write, has memory problems and suffers acute anxiety and panic attacks.  Because of the adverse finding at the medical assessment stage his benefits have been stopped causing distress and financial hardship, and associated stress.  He has been without benefit for several months because he did not understand about appealing (when he would have received reduced benefit), or that he should have put in a new claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit etc.”

Other cases cited in the report describe people in the terminal stages of illness or with obvious physical or mental illnesses that render them unable to work. Yet every single one had been assessed as 'fit for work' by Atos, and had their benefits stopped by the DWP.

CAB nationally responded to 97,000 requests for support on this issue alone in the first three months of 2012.

Local services for families, young people and the elderly have all been affected because so much local resource has had to be channelled into clearing up the chaos caused by Atos. Get Connected in Morecambe is a volunteer-led service set up to offer support and advice to a wide range of clients in Morecambe's West End.  They have found much of their time spent instead in trying to meet need created by the DWP / Atos process, in particular for people with chronic mental health problems. Many have had their benefits stopped after being found 'fit for work' and then been unable to undertake, or indeed understand, the necessary steps for survival or to keep a roof over their heads.

Local award-winning charity Disability Online, set up to provide a range of advice and counselling services for local disabled people has also had to refocus most of its resource into assisting hundreds of vulnerable and desperate clients through an endless cycle of annual assessments and appeals – with an appeal success rate of over 90%.   Again, VL has heard from them of tragic cases where appeals have been allowed posthumously. (Necessary as grieving families must also cope with debts left from caring for a member with a terminal illness and no income).

One woman told VL that although she was scheduled for heart surgery two days after the assessment date Atos had set for her, ATOS refused to pospone her assessment until after she was discharged from hospital. She begged them, but they insisted she attend or lose her benefits, despite her being unwell, in a state of cardiac failure.  Faced with the potential threat of losing her home along with her income, she managed to attend but collapsed in the office, whereupon she was told to leave and found herself put out onto the street, where she managed to phone for assistance. She said she felt that their attitude was simply that 'they just didn't want me dying on their premises, it would have looked bad'.

Others have told us that when a person is passed 'fit for work' their benefits are stopped immediately from the day of the test, but they may not actually receive notification until up to three weeks later. They have then just two weeks to give notice of their intention to appeal this decision and the process is complicated even if one were not struggling with illness or disability. At the same time one is deprived of any income, and may find that because benefits have already been stopped for weeks without warning, that standing orders have failed and debts are already mounting.

Housing and Council Tax benefits, being linked, will also have been stopped and people who are sick, disabled, or dying are routinely faced with mountains of urgent new claims and paperwork to complete, which may or may not be successful. The stress on them, their families, friends and carers can be appalling.

The appeal process can take up to 10 months to complete. It is frightening and complex and most people require assistance from an experienced advisory or support service to understand and manage it. Some cases are 'reconsidered' and allowed prior to the appeal stage being reached. Over one-third of cases that make it to the tribunal stage are successful in overturning the assessment decision, in which case benefits are reinstated.

However, within a few weeks they will be summoned for a fresh assessment by Atos and the process begins again.  VL has met several people now on their third or fourth cycle of assessment and appeal. It is endless and gruelling and hundreds of deaths have been reported nationally of people assessed as 'fit for work' by Atos. Despite repeated requests the DWP have declined to release the exact numbers.

Another recent local CAB case relates to a man whose appeal failed, forcing him back to work. He collapsed on the job and sustained severe injuries that have permanently crippled him.

The National Audit Office has confirmed that the cost of the appeals process to the taxpayer has more than trebled since 2009 to £66m annually - more than half the cost of the original Atos contract again, with the taxpayer effectively paying twice, once for the assessments, then again to correct the mistakes.

However this does not take into account the cost to the families, communities and other services that must provide support when the system has repeated breakdown built-in. Vulnerable people without income must be directed to foodbanks and debt 'management', and supported through the mountain of paperwork that other benefits agencies and city councils must then process. Over and over again. Landlords must wait for their rent or put a sick or disabled person onto the street. Loan sharks and racketeers, smelling desperation, gather and prey widely, to the detriment of the entire community.   Stress can cause sick people (and their carers and children) to deteriorate, particularly those with mental health problems, resulting in additional demands on overstretched health services.

And yet, even if the DWP / Atos assessment process had worked perfectly, the savings to the national exchequer would have been negligible. The DWP estimates that less than 1% of welfare benefit expenditure is overpaid due to fraud. Only about 12% of the overall national welfare benefits budget goes on sickness and disability benefits in any case. 42% goes to pensioners and the bulk of the rest goes to supporting low income families with low-paid jobs.

Far more taxpayers' money is spent on benefits that subsidise an underpaid workforce, to enable greater profits for the companies that employ them, than is spent on the sick and disabled.   However people struggling with disabilities or illnesses and cancer treatments have been made to feel that society regards them as unwanted 'scroungers', while employers who avoid their responsibilities with zero hours contracts that include no sickness or maternity pay or pension contributions can happily count their profits and evade their taxes.

The Atos contract is not due to be reconsidered by the DWP until 2015. In the meantime the damage done and the costs to individuals, families, services and communities is mounting. In a time when energy should be spent on strategies to tackle the recession and prepare young people for an uncertain future,  resources are being diverted from every neighbourhood to cope with the destabilising effects of bad policy from the DWP and bad practice from its contractor Atos Healthcare.

University of Cumbria offers Clearing Tips video for would-be students

Help is at hand for students who don’t get the A-level grades they expect as results day draws nearer.

The University of Cumbria, which as a campus in Lancaster, has recorded a video offering helpful tips and advice for students who will go through Clearing as they look to secure a place at university.

Helen Fleming, the university’s Director of Marketing and Recruitment, is featured on the seven-minute video which gives general advice to students who don’t meet the conditions of their first-choice university offer.

Helen said: “At this stressful time of year, with exam results looming, it is the perfect time for students to think about planning for the best, but being prepared if things don’t go to plan and they don’t get the grades they need.

“We find that many students have spent a lot of time planning and preparing to go to their first choice and that they haven’t spent any time preparing for what to do if they are not able to go to their first choice university.”

Helen gives the following advice to students who don’t get the grades they need:

Firstly and most importantly – don’t panic! It may feel like a complete disaster if you miss your grades for your first choice university, but it’s important to try to stay calm and have your back-up plan in place. Thousands of students are placed through Clearing every year, and for many students this option is actually better for them than their first choice. Just remember that there are a lot of options open to you, and you need to take the time to think rationally about what you want to do – it’s a big decision.

Call your first choice university/check on UCAS track. Even if you miss your grades, you may still get in to your first choice university. This depends on how many other people have got their grades, so check this out first. The important thing to remember is that you have built a relationship with your first choice university – and they will want to take you if they can.

Make sure you are happy with your insurance choice. If you miss your first choice university you are obliged to go to your insurance choice unless you ask to be released. Many students haven’t really considered this as a real option – so think about what you might do if you go to your insurance, where you would live and what plans you might have to change.

Check the UCAS website for vacancies and call the universities you are interested in. This is the part students worry about the most, but the people on the end of the phone want to help you so try not to worry. You should try to be patient – there may be a long wait to get through to some universities but you will get through in the end. Try to prioritise back-up options – which other universities are you interested in? Some courses will fill on a first come first served basis so you need to be organised.

Top tips:

a)    Have your UCAS number handy
b)    Have details of your results including GCSEs
c)    Be ready to talk about why that course and why that university
d)    Talk to the university yourself – we can’t talk to parents or teachers on your behalf

Don’t make concrete plans for the Friday and Saturday after results. You should remember that Clearing places may depend on interviews, you may need to go to an open day, or even have an audition.

The University of Cumbria's Clearing hotline (08080 024 024) will be open from 7.00am-7.00pm on Thursday 15th and Friday 16th August, 9.00am-5.00pm on Saturday 17th August and Sunday 18th August, and 9.00am-5.00pm weekdays from Monday 19th August.

It will be manned by staff and current students who will offer guidance around availability, necessary interviews, course details and signposting to other support services.   

Pop, rock, comedy - and Paul Daniels at the Platform this autumn

Lee Mead is just one major act at Morecambe's Platform this autumn
The autumn winter brochure for Morecambe' Platform is out now and packed with famous faces from stage and screen - and to celebrate the launch, the venue is offering an ‘early bird’ discount of 10% off pantomime tickets purchased before 1st September.

The early bird offer can be redeemed at local Visitor Information Centres and through the Platform's Box Office – this offer is not available for online purchases via the website.

Here are some of the highlights...

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a pantomime. So get your three wishes ready as Aladdin will be riding in on his magic carpet. Performances take place from Boxing Day 26th December – Monday 30th December.  Tickets for this will make great Christmas gifts and cost £8 adult £7 child £26 family (2+2).

The new season begins on the weekend of the Seaside Festival. Take a trip down memory lane with Thanks for the Memory: They Played the Winter Gardens on Saturday 31st August at 12pm and 2pm. Presented by Duggie Chapman MBE, this show features rare film clips of comedy heroes, singers and music hall acts from the Edwardian era to the 1950s. Tickets are £5.

On Sunday 1st September local celebrity antiques expert Paul Hayes will be on hand to value your treasures. He will be offering free appraisals from 12pm then returning to the stage at 7.30pm for an evening of ‘Seaside Rock’. The Paul Hayes Collection are performing ‘Rock Back the Clock’ with a line up featuring Eric Faulkner (Bay City Rollers), Derek’s Dirty Hand and Hush. The evening is in aid of St John’s Hospice and tickets are £10 including supper.

This season’s highlight for fans of musical theatre will be An Evening with Lee Mead. The winner of Any Dream Will Do and star of West End smash hits: Joseph, Wicked and Legally Blonde, is bringing his solo show to Morecambe on Thursday 26th September. Lee will perform songs from his theatre shows and off his albums. He will also be bringing a superb band for an amazing night of music. The show starts at 8pm and Tickets are £25. This will sell out so it’s advisable to buy tickets early.

There is more musical theatre from the Morecambe Warblers (Youth Productions) as they present Bugsy Malone. This promises to be a great show of slapstick musical comedy where the weapons of choice are ‘splurge’ guns and custard pies! Performances take place on Friday 6th September at 7.30pm and Saturday 7th September at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are £10/£8 concessions.

If high voltage rock and roll is your idea of a great night out don’t miss ‘For Those about to Rock’ with Livewire, a fantastic AC/DC tribute. This six man band perform hit after hit including ‘Back in Black’, ‘Rosie’ and ‘Highway to Hell’ until the cannons fire ceremoniously bringing the show to a superb crescendo. Plus the ZZ Tops are also on the bill! Tickets are £18 for this amazing show on Saturday 14th September at 7.30pm.

Rockers will also be pleased to hear that Whole Lotta Led are back on stage at the Platform. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘Houses of the Holy’, the band will perform the album in its entirety and several classic Zeppelin songs. Don’t miss this performance from one of the most talented tribute acts in the UK on Saturday 21st September at 8pm. Tickets are £14/£13 concessions.

Traditional brass band music will be performed at the Last Night of the Proms by Wesley Methodist Church featuring the Pilling Silver Jubilee Silver Band on Friday 13th September at 7pm. Tickets are £9.

Morecambe Brass Band also brings their Remembrance Concert to the Platform on Saturday 9th November and they will perform their traditional Winter Showcase on Friday December 20 and the Christmas Concert on Saturday 21st December.

Hal Cruttenden is bringing laughter to the Platform this season. The ‘Tough Luvvie’ tour features Hal’s warm and catty, straight and camp mix that has made him a regular guest on televised comedy shows. In comedy circles, he is being tipped as ‘the next big thing’ and is on stage on Saturday November 23. Tickets are £14/£12 and the show is for ages 16 and over.

Vintage enthusiasts should make their way to the Platform on Sunday 15th September to see the venue transformed into a vintage village hall and tea room. It will be open from 10am – 4pm and is free to enter and browse the stalls selling vintage clothing and accessories with traditional tea and cakes also on sale.

Alexei Sayle will be on stage reading excerpts from his hilarious memoir of his confusing life as the son of communist parents. He talks about his family and the life and times growing up in Liverpool. He will also answer audience questions on his dazzling show business career. This show is on Monday 23rd September at 8pm and is suitable for over 18s only. Tickets cost £15/£14 concessions.

Politician Michael Portillo will be talking about his extraordinary life story in ‘Life: A Game of Two Halves’ on Saturday 5th October. He will recall his political rise and exit as well as what he has been up to since then. Listen to his story and feel free to question him about it. Join him at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £15/£13.

Jazz fans can hear the James Taylor Quartet play their latest album ‘Closer to the Moon’ on Saturday 28th September. Bringing a new sound to their trademark styling, the worlds of jazz and classical music collide and result in a brilliant and unexpected marriage. JTQ fans will be delighted to hear James’ first ever lead vocal performance on ‘Closer to You’. Tickets cost £16.

Recreating the legendary music of Queen is tribute band, Magic. They will be performing all their greatest hits with a talented band capable of performing the complex harmonies of Queen’s trademark sound on Friday 4th October at 8pm. Tickets £16.50.

Get your tiaras and bow ties at the ready and help raise funds for St John’s Hospice at the Diamonds are Forever black tie charity evening.  Dress to impress and receive a free Martini (shaken not stirred) on entry. Be dazzled by the sounds of Solid Silver, joined by special guests and dancers. Win big on the charity raffle and bid high in the auction to help raise funds for this worthy charity. Tickets for this event on Saturday 12th October are £8 per adult and £4 per child and include a buffet and free drink.

Later with Jools Netherland brings a non stop mini festival with an eclectic mix of indie/rock/folk/acoustic/tex mex/country and classic rock on Friday 18th October. Suitable for over 18s or 16 and over with an accompanying adult. Tickets are only £10 and these popular gigs often sell out.

Swoon along to ‘An Evening of Frank Sinatra’ featuring the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra on Saturday 19th October at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £13.

If the king of rock and roll is more to your taste get those blue suede shoes on and enjoy One Night of Elvis. This spectacular show is on Saturday 26th October at 8pm. Tickets cost £20 for this celebration of Elvis’s career from the 1950s through to the Vegas years headed by Lee Memphis King and his world class band and backing singers.

Keep little ones amused during October half term with How to Catch a Star. Based on the best selling children’s book, this adaptation includes music, storytelling and puppetry to bring to life the story of the little boy who loved stars very much.... A great show for small people aged 3-7 and grown up star gazers! There are two shows on Monday 28th October at 11.30am and 2pm. Tickets cost £6 adults/£5 child/£20 family (2+2).

Brian Kennedy has worked with Van Morrison and shared stages with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker and is coming to the Platform on Friday 1st November at 8pm. Tickets cost £17.50.

On Saturday 2nd November, dazzling costumes and authentic musicianship come together for a night with Beatlemania. Be transported from their mop-top roots to the psychedelic Sgt Pepper era and beyond to make you feel like it was only ‘Yesterday’. The event starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £17.50.

One of the best loved entertainers that Ireland has ever produced, Dominic Kirwan, is coming to the Platform to perform his latest concert ‘My Ireland’. This promises to be an evening spanning folk, country and popular music at its best on Friday 8th November. Tickets cost £18.50

Local film director Chris Abram presents Times Past 3 featuring new clips obtained from the North West Film Archives from long lost promotional films captured in the 1930s. Chris will also be showing excerpts from his latest award winning local heritage films on Saturday 16th November. Tickets cost £10.

Join the Promenade Concert Orchestra as they perform Music for You – Your Hundred Best Tunes on Sunday 17th November at 3pm. This concert features harpist Maxine Molin as soloist. Tickets cost £14 adult, £12 concession and £6 child.

Celebrate St Andrew’s Day with a Ceilidh with music from Striding Edge and a hot pot supper on Friday 29th November. It will be a great night of dancing and music – no experience necessary as the expert callers will explain all the dances and call the moves.

Celebrity magician Paul Daniels is showcasing his First Farewell Tour; From Legend to Leg End on Saturday 30th November. Performing some of his best loved tricks with a few new ones up his sleeve, catch him before he hangs up his magic wand. As always, he will be joined by the lovely Debbie McGee. Tickets cost £16.

In December, two talented folk bands are performing. The Houghton Weavers promise to deliver a fun and friendly evening of music and anecdotes on Friday 13th December  at 7.30pm whilst Steeleye Span, one of the most successful British folk rock bands ever, are performing on Saturday December 14 at 7.30pm.  Tickets for the Houghton Weavers cost £14/£13 concessions and for Steeleye Span £19.50.

Have you arranged your Christmas night out yet? If not, get your tickets to Jools Netherland’s Big Xmas Night Out and join us for a fantastic evening of festive food and top class live entertainment from the show band. There are two party nights to choose from - Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th December from 8pm. Tickets cost £25 and include mulled wine and a hot carvery supper.

• More details about these acts and the many more on offer are available in the Autumn/Winter edition of The Platform brochure.  The brochure is available to download online at
If you would like to receive a copy of the brochure by email please send your details to:

• Brochures are available to collect from the Platform, Central Promenade, Morecambe, visitor information centres and town halls in Lancaster and Morecambe and Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Lancaster.

• The Platform also has a Facebook page at and a Twitter account @theplatformlcc  

Man who robbed same Heysham house twice jailed for two years

A man has been jailed at Preston Crown Court yesterday for over two years for burgling a house in Heysham - twice.

On the morning of 19th June 2013 Gary Nelson, 23, of no fixed address forced entry to the rear of a semi-detached house on Redshank Drive.

Once inside he stole jewellery, a games console, i-pod and mobile phone. These were later found to have been fraudulently sold on locally but he also took house and car keys.

Whilst being sought by the police, on 23rd June Nelson returned to the same home and stole the car from the drive. He drove the Hyundai Getz to Newby Bridge in Cumbria, where it was spotted by Cumbrian Constabulary Officers. Nelson ran from the car, but following an extensive search was located close by and arrested.

Nelson was charged with dwelling burglary, fraud, unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle and other driving and licence document offences.

Nelson appeared at Preston Crown Court yesterday, where he pleaded guilty to all the offences. He was given a custodial sentence of; 876 days for burglary, eight months for fraud and two months for unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle and the driving offences, to run concurrently, and ordered to pay a surcharge to the victim of £120.

PC Paul Morris from Lancaster Burglary Team said: “Nelson failed to provide any comment to police about the incidents but I am pleased he has now admitted his crimes and I hope this outcome shows that we continue to be committed to tackling those individuals that cause the fear and upset that come with being a victim of a burglary.”

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Robin Hood Bows Out

Robin Hood will be heading out of Lancaster in just a few days after spending his summer entertaining thousands of people in Williamson Park.

The Dukes new version of Robin Hood proved so popular that its run was extended for a week but on 17th August, the famous outlaw will fire his final arrow in the park.

During the July heatwave, Robin Hood was the hottest ticket in town as audiences enjoyed the return of the UK’s largest outdoor walkabout theatre event after a year’s break.

Exactly 20 years after The Dukes first presented Robin Hood outdoors, this summer’s version has been given a twist for a new generation of theatregoers while still retaining all the elements audiences have come to expect from promenading in the park.

• To book tickets for the final week of Robin Hood, ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit

North West Labour Party lines up their Euro candidates for 2014

Sitting MEP Arlene McCarthy topped the list of selected
Labour candidates for the 2014 European Elections

The Labour Party has unveiled its candidates to fight the 2014 European Elections in the North West.

"We have a brilliant team of Labour candidates who I know have the right skills and experience to fight for the best deal for the North West," enthuses Arlene McCarthy MEP, who was top of Labour North West's list for 2014 European Parliament elections.

"The North West is the most important export region outside of London and the South East, our relationship with Europe matters. As Labour MEPs we have kept our pledge to the people of the North West to use our influence in Europe and our membership of the EU to deliver results for our region.

"Jobs in our region are dependent on the EU. That’s why it is important to get Labour MEPs elected. We will fight for jobs and growth to boost the regional economy.

"Labours teams for the 2014 European elections will be listening to and working with people and groups across the region to make sure we get the best deal from Europe."

The candidates are listed below. The election to the European Parliament is a list system. The Labour Party ran a one member, one vote ballot of its members to determine the order of candidates on the list. Over 10,000 Labour members who took part in the North West. Nationally nearly 70,000 members took part in the process.

Arlene McCarthy

Currently an MEP, as Vice Chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Arlene was responsible for drafting and negotiating the new EU law on banker’s bonuses.

She is currently drafting the market abuse law and the new law on financial markets. Since becoming Vice Chair Arlene has earned herself a place in the top 100 influential women in European finance 2010, 2011 and 2012.

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Theresa Griffin 

Theresa has worked to bring jobs and investment from Europe to the North West especially to the region's most deprived communities since the mid 1990s. Working closely with the European Parliamentary Labour Party, she has also sought to promote the excellence of the North West throughout Europe and internationally.

Theresa is Vice Chair of the Regional Labour Party and represents the North West on the Labour Party's National Policy Forum. Theresa lives in Liverpool and works for the public sector union, UNISON.

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Afzal Khan 

Afzal is an executive councillor and former Lord Mayor of Manchester. He has campaigning experience across the region and a track record of taking on the far right, and helping to grow our economy. Afzal was awarded the CBE for services tocommunity and interfaith relations and local government.

"I left school with no qualifications and worked as a labourer in a mill before returning to education," he says. "I then spent three years as a police officer with Greater Manchester Police before going on to study law and qualifying as a solicitor.

"I have always been actively involved in my community – as a school and university governor, a trustee of several charities including the British Red Cross and City in the Community, and through many other organisations such as interfaith forums."

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Julie Ward 
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Julie currently lives in the North Pennines and is the co-founder of a workers’ collective that has been providing creative services to the education, health and social care sectors for nearly three decades.

She worked in Manchester and Lancashire before becoming director of a disability organisation, serving Cumbriaand North East England and is a member of the Platform for Intercultural Europe and campaigns on issues such as One Billion Rising.

Wajid Khan
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Wajid is currently a councillor in Burnley, Lancashire. He also works as a senior university lecturer in Community Leadership. He has a national award in community and social cohesion.

Wajid has substantial experience of Europe and has served on the board of volonteurope and currently teaches about the European Union at the University of Central Lancashire.
Angeliki Stogia 

Angeliki Stogia has ten years experience of delivering European funding for communities across the North West helping voluntary and community sector organisations benefit from vital EU investment.

Born in Greece, Angeliki moved to Manchester in 1995 where she also represents Whalley Range ward in Manchester City Council.

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Steve Carter

Steve Carter has extensive experienced campaigning on European issues. He is a Labour councillor and is currently working as a History teacher living in Cheshire.

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Pascale Lamb 

Pascale currently works at the European Parliament on consumer protection and economic affairs.

She previously worked in financial services for two years after being a student at Manchester University.

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"I am proud that such strong, committed and inspiring people have been picked by ordinary Labour Party members to be their MEP candidates in the North West," commented Harriet Harman MP. "Like the people they seek to represent, they come from all walks of life and from all the different communities who live here in the North West.

"Unlike David Cameron whose first priority on Europe is appeasing the ever more extreme demands of Tory backbenchers, Labour MEPs will be a powerful One Nation voice who stand up for ordinary hardworking families.

"Their top priority is to be a strong voice in the European Parliament to make sure they get the best deal and bring jobs and growth here in the North West."

Appeal for Morecambe man wanted on prison recall

Police are appealing for information about a Morecambe man who is wanted on prison recall.

William John Morrison, 30, previously of Westminster Road, Morecambe was sentenced to 30 months in prison for a burglary he committed in May 2012 at a house on Warren Grove in Heysham.

Morrison has since been released from prison on licence but has breached the terms of that licence and therefore has now been recalled to prison.

Morrison is described as being white, around 6 feet tall, medium build, with blue eyes and short ginger hair.

He is known to have connections to the Lancaster and Morecambe areas but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Detective Inspector Bev Foster said, “We would ask the public, particularly in the Lancaster and Morecambe areas to be vigilant and to report any sightings of Morrison to the police on 101.”

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Consultation in autumn on future of Skerton High School

Lancashire County Council has confirmed it is to consult on the possible closure of Skerton High Community School, citing  low pupil numbers and teaching standards.

The possible closure comes three years after the County Council closed Skerton Primary School amid protest from local residents citing falling rolls and poor Year 6 test results. Pupils were moved to other schools in the area, including Ryelands Primary Schoo and Skerton St Lukes' CE Primary.

The Lancaster Guardian reported that more than 1,500 people signed petitions during a public consultation on that closure - and 104 objection letters.

Protest at proposals to close Skerton High School may be even louder. Parents of the 192 pupils have told local MP David Morris that six per cent of the pupils come from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, 40 per cent havespecial needs and 40 per cent are eligible for free school meals. They argue older students with special needs have also distorted the academic performance by being moved to the school in year 11 after the closure of
neighbouring schools.

The Lancashire & North West Magazine reports that Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, who signed off the decision to hold the consultation, told parent Hazel Parry, that Skerton Community High has "reached the stage where, in my opinion, it is no longer viable as a mainstream high school."

"We will do everything we can to fight this," Mrs Parry, mother of pupil Ethan Parry, 13, told the magazine in repsonse. "We don’t have a clue what we would do if the school closed.

"I am worried sick because this is the best school for Ethan. He has done absolutely brilliantly there. He has mild Asperger’s and he has come a long way since starting
at Skerton. We haven’t looked back."

When the proposal to close the school was mooted back in July, school governor Councillor Karen Leytham said she was deeply saddened and frustrated that Lancashire County Council had seen fit to announce the decision to consult on the future of the school immediately prior to the summer holidays.

"This extremely ill-timed decision has caused much anxiety and distress to pupils, parents, staff and governors alike," she said.

Announcing the consultation plans today, County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson said: "We've been talking to the governors of Skerton High about the school's future for a while.
"The discussions centred on three aspects of school life: pupils' academic results, Ofsted inspections, and – crucially – falling pupil numbers. The school's intake capacity is 90, but this year just 18 families put Skerton as their first choice.

"Academic results have remained stubbornly low and a recent Ofsted inspection rated ! the school as having serious weaknesses, so now we do have to look at the future of the school

"The consultation is open to everyone and I really hope that people will take the opportunity to tell us what they think and come up with ideas."

The consultation will start on 9th September, after the summer holidays. The timescale for the process is:

  • Cabinet member decision to consult: 5 August 2013

  • First stage of public consultation, when people can express their views in a full range of ways: 9 September – 25 October

  • Report back on consultation and cabinet member decision whether to publish statutory notice: 5 December

  • Publication of statutory notice and period of time for further representations: 6 January 2014 – 16 February

  • Decision – April 2014

  • Implementation – 31 August 2014
A consultation booklet containing full details of the reasons for the prop! osal and how to give your views will be available online as well as fr om Skerton High School and a number of other locations from 9th September.

A consultation event will be held at the school on 9th October from 4.30pm. A number of education officers from the county council will be present, to hear views and answer questions. Attendance is by appointment – details will be in the consultation booklet.

Skerton Community High School opened in 1934 and was originally a provider of education to both boys and girls, who were segregated; the boys being educated in the northern wing, while the girls were educated in the Southern wing.

A proposal to close the school in 2007 as part of a state modernisation programme collapsed. Locally, some have suggested the site has been suggested as a possible site for new housing on numerous occasions, despite its Art Deco-inspired architecture.

In recent years it has won an award in the National Healthy Schools programme, teaching
healthy eating to pupils with behavioural and emotional problem. 

"Our ethos has always been to nurture and enable talent, whilst encouraging all students to care about and support each other," says headmaster Chris Snell of the school on its web site. "We provide smaller class sizes, excellent vocational opportunities, a clean, well resourced, friendly, caring and an academically robust school that puts children first. We are flexible in our approach to education, allowing us to provide an appropriate curriculum for each pupil.

"We make it our business to know our pupils individually and work with them and their families to ensure that their potential is achieved.

"This environment truly nurtures the belief that 'every child matters'."

Kendal's International Comic Art Festival plans outlined

Lancaster-based comic writer Andy Diggle
will be just one of the guests at Kendal's
comic festival in October
The programme's in place, the venues booked. Now, comic creators from across the North West - including Lancaster and Morecambe - are getting ready for one of the biggest comic events of the year in October - the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

Britain is buzzing with comics festivals and conventions up and down the land and throughout the year. Across the spectrum of scale and longevity, Oxford’s determinedly human-scale small press weekend Caption is the longest one still running, while the MCM Expos can draw humungous hordes of fans, though not necessarily of comics. The term ‘Comicon’ has become rather debased lately worldwide, sidelining comics and standing more for fantasy and genre movies, TV, games and pop culture in general. Other festivals like Thought Bubble in Leeds and Comica in London, both bouncing back this autumn, put the emphasis firmly on the richness of comics.

This year is buzzier than ever, what with newcomers Nerd Fest in Nottingham and 22 Panels in Falmouth, Cornwall and the Edinburgh Book Festival running a big comics programme Stripped. But the most exciting premier is the Lakes International Comic Art Festival over the weekend of 18th - 20th October, which long time comics ambassdaor Paul Gravett – who has run events across the UK for over 25 years – feels is set to make the lovely Cumbrian town of Kendal world-famous for more than just the glorious Lake District scenery and scrummy Mint Cake.

The plans for its first year are audaciously ambitious and, in an interview here with Paul, its director Julie Tait brims over with vivacity and vision.

Lancaster-based comic creators expected to be at the Festival include comics writer Andy Diggle, artist Sean Phillips (who also has an exhibition of his work there), Paul Harrison-Davies and comics editor and former editor of Doctor Who Magazine John Freeman.

"Comic art has always been an interest and my 15 year old son has intensified this for me over the last few years so it has become a shared interest," says Julie, who has been working in the arts for nearly 25 years. "We have been to a wide range of conventions and events together. He has Asperger’s Syndrome so our experiences have been a little unusual too - another longer story.

"I have seen the parallels between outdoor arts and comic art and feel there is huge potential to reach a wider audience and so much amazing work going on - innovative and of the highest quality. Call it zeitgeist. The four-year Olympic programme, Lakes Alive, which I have been working on has come to an end (of course!) and whist there is a legacy, it is smaller scale now. So this leaves some room for new ventures. Plus there is no major event in the North West celebrating comic art and where better to put on a true cultural festival about this medium than the Lakes?

"...The Town and District Councils are hugely supportive as are the Library Service (county-wide), schools and colleges - all critical to success too," she continues, asked about local support for her ambitious project which will see over 80 comic creators on various stages and in numerous venues, along with an increasing number of publishers and editorial teams, such as Titan Comics and The Phoenix. "Most importantly, more and more businesses are coming out of the woodwork with their own ideas of how to support it, and the local population, whilst not quite sure what it all entails, are becoming increasingly curious and then excited because it offers a new kind of event..."

While Julie is no doubt deligted that the event is being compared in its style to the prestigious French comics festival put on in Angouleme each January, which attracts over 100,000 visitors to the small French city, she is also realistic about what can be acheived in the show's first year.

"Reality check first, which I already knew about from my travels to French street arts festivals," she cautions. "The Europeans get it, really value culture and have big budgets (still) and are embedded in their towns and cities  - huge envy! Then the excitement about making it happen on no budget from a standing start but with a great place and local energy to build on.

"To be honest that is the nub of it - the individual aspects were what I had expected and cheekily I even had ideas for how they could improve their festival 'offer'! The most inspiring bit was the scale and the breadth and depth of its impact  - lots and lots of people and from all backgrounds reveling in comic art with displays in shop windows and streets feeling alive with it all...

"...The events programme represents a wide range of genres etc and a reasonable international representation too. Much to build on in the future. At the same time we have areas which are totally free and less “earnest” in presentation to attract those new to it all. However quality is the connecting factor I hope."

With the project looming ever closer, there's no stopping now, and Julie's enthusiasm for the whole Festival is apparent throughout her interview, even touching on advance planning for 2014, with meetings and ideas already flowing for next year's event. She's keen to  ensure guests this year go away and advocate for what the Festival team are doing, "private sectors come to the table to support in year two and the public sector and tourism industries here see the benefits and want to help sustain it.

"If we can put down enough markers this year, I think we have a great future potentially..."

Read the full interview on Paul Gravett's web site here. Paul will be hosting several of the panels at the event, interviewing Ed Brubaker and Kurt Busiek, among others

Book event tickets and find out more about the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on the official web site

Lancashire County Council suspends Chief Executive

The Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council Phil Halsall has been suspended from work pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.

The council's Urgency Committee made the decision in a meeting held at County Hall earlier today. It follows an independent review of the tender process for a contract to run the council's fleet services.

The Urgency Committee has also appointed Jo Turton, the council's Executive Director for Environment, as interim Chief Executive with immediate effect.

The council say they will be making no further comment pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.

Mr Halsall was chief executive at South Ribble Council before leaving to become executive director of resources in 2000 at Liverpool City Council. He has been at Lancashire County Council since 2009.

He was promoted to Chief Executive in 2010 on a reported salary of £195,000. He said he was ‘pleased and honoured’ at his new job, in charge of 42,000 staff at that time.

Monday, 5 August 2013

"Thankful Villages" Run reaches Arkholme and Nether Kellet befiore finale

David Morris MP with "Thankful Villages" rider Dougie Bancroft and John Tamlin of Docker Park Farm.
This summer Medwyn Parry and Dougie Bancroft have been riding Triumph motorbikes to all of the 51 "Thankful Villages" in the United Kingdom – villages with no traditional war memorial because all who went off to fight in the Great War were lucky enough to return home. 14 of these (including Nether Kellet) are “Double Thankful”, where they also returned from the Second World War.

Despite surviving the war many veterans had been scarred physically and/or mentally by their horrific ordeal.

On Saturday 3rd August the Thankful Villages Run reached Nether Kellet and Arkholme, where crowds of residents were present to see the presentation of commemorative slate plaques to the local communities.

The visit was one of the last stops on a run taking in all 51 villages, which the pair hope will raise over £51,000 for the Royal British Legion.

Guests at the charity evening event at Docker Park Farm in Arkholme in support of The Royal British Legion included Lord Shuttleworth, the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale and Lancashire County Councillor Susie Charles.  Tom and Martin Holden were guests representing descendants of servicemen from Nether Kellet and Joan Haston was a guest representing descendants of servicemen from Arkholme.

"The response from the communities has just been brilliant, and we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers," say the team of the entire Run's success. "Amazing things have happened."

• More about the Thankful Villages Run:

For an incredibly well researched history and comprehensive list of the Thankful Villages, just go to

Lancaster Castle gets set to host a Lancashire Witches Weekend

A weekend of events at Lancaster Castle will mark the 401st anniversary of the Lancashire Witch Trials, during which 19 people went on trial for their lives at Lancaster Castle.

The events, which take place over the weekend of 16 - 18th August, will commemorate the 10 men and women who were hanged in the summer of 1612.

On the Friday evening, a free commemorative event has been developed by a range of organisations to give people the opportunity to reflect and remember the extraordinary lives, journey and ultimate fate of the Lancashire Witches.

The evening will start with a reflective performance of poetry, prose and music in the atmospheric surroundings of the castle’s inner rooms and will highlight the plight of those victims of a time of persecution. The event will culminate in the lighting of a beacon and a vigil held by charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, which works with modern-day victims of mistreatment.

Over Saturday and Sunday, there will be a number of family-friendly events and activities taking place at the castle. Broomstick racing, witchcraft workshops, street theatre and storytelling will be on offer to entertain young and old alike.

There will also be a chance to visit the castle dungeons where the unfortunate victims were imprisoned.

"There's no doubt that Lancaster has a fascinating history, but no episode in that history is more fascinating or darker than the story of the Lancashire Witches, says Councillor Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for culture and tourism.

“It is important to separate fact from centuries of fiction. We must learn from history and never repeat such dreadful inhumanities.

"The event on the Friday evening in particular will provide visitors to Lancaster Castle with a stirring insight into a story that has captivated people for centuries followed by two days of fun for all the family.”

This event is kindly sponsored by Bay Tourism Association and Lancaster Unlimited and is brought to you by Lancaster Castle, Nice @ The Castle, Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Litfest and Stepping Stones Nigeria.

• Events take place on Friday 16 August 7.30pm – 10pm (free event), Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 August 10am – 5pm (£1 admission charge). More information is available at and or by calling Nice @ The Castle on 01524 848525.

District set to benefit from affordable housing funding

Lancaster district is set to benefit from new funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to bring forward new affordable housing developments in the area.

Adactus Housing Association and Guinness Northern Counties Housing Association, both key partners of Lancaster City Council and existing providers of affordable housing in the area, have been successful in securing grant funding for five new developments.

Adactus Housing Association have been awarded grant funding to bring forward three new schemes, a development of eight houses at Hornby, a scheme of 53 properties at the former Riverview Hostel site on Newton Estate, Lancaster (a mixed development of one, two and three-bedroom properties) and a development of 16 one-bedroom flats at Long Marsh Lane, Lancaster.

In addition to the grant funded schemes, Adactus are the selected registered provider for the new development at Lune Mills, Lancaster, and will be negotiating to secure 19 properties to let as social housing as part of the wider residential development being built by Barratts and Redrow.

Guinness Northern Counties have secured funding for two affordable housing schemes and plan to provide a development of 18 properties (12 one-bedroom flats and 6 two-bedroom houses) at Brindle Close, Scale Hall Farm, Lancaster, and 24 one-bedroom flats at Luneside East, Lancaster.

Councillor Karen Leytham, Cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “We are highly delighted that the new funding from the HCA will provide a much needed increase in new affordable housing schemes in the district.

“The council works very closely with Guinness Northern Counties and Adactus and fully supported the funding bids. The five proposed schemes will include much needed one bedroom accommodation, which is already in short supply, and with the impact of the recent welfare reforms, will allow social housing providers to help those most affected as well as other people in housing need.”

Adactus Housing Association, in partnership with Lancaster City Council, have also secured grant funding under the Government’s Homelessness Change Programme, to provide a much needed supported housing scheme for single homeless people. Full details and proposals to deliver this new service will shortly be available once finalised.

“We are delighted that the HCA has yet again demonstrated its confidence in the Group to help deliver local plans for new affordable housing, said Garnet Fazackerley, the Assistant Director of Development for the Adactus Housing Group. "The development of these new homes in Lancaster is great news for local residents in need of quality affordable housing in the area. We will work closely with the local community, Lancaster City Council and the HCA to ensure the new homes we develop meet the needs of the local people and make a positive difference to their lives and neighbourhood.”

Allan Ramsay, Guinness Northern Counties’ Director of Investment and Regeneration, added: “Guinness looks forward to strengthening its excellent relationship with the HCA and Lancaster City Council, in helping provide much needed affordable housing within the authority.

"Lancaster is a key development area for Guinness Northern Counties. We are grateful for the support both partners have given not only to these two new and exciting developments, but also to two existing schemes currently on site which will deliver another 39 homes.”

With the grant funding in place, registered providers can now seek planning approval to bring the proposed new developments forward. Most of the properties will be advertised through the Council’s “Ideal Choice Homes” Choice Based Lettings Scheme, which is normally 8-12 weeks before final handover of properties.

In April 2013, there were 1927 households included on the council’s housing register, and of those, 1159 needed one bedroom accommodation. Since then the overall number of applicants has increased to 2542, with the number of applicants requiring one bedroom accommodation rising to 1517.

The total affordable housing provision in Lancaster district is currently around 6000 dwellings, with the council being the largest social housing provider with just under 3,800 homes and the remainder belonging to other private registered providers.

The vacancy rate of existing social housing is normally around 500 properties each year.