Friday, 1 November 2013

Skerton High School: Full Statement from David Morris MP on possible moves to an academy

(With thanks to Hand Off Skerton): Following up on our earlier stories about the future of Skerton High and the possibility it may become an academy, Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has issued a statement.

"It was a privilege to take students from Skerton High School to present their petition to Downing Street yesterday and also to present their petition to the House of Commons," he says.

"I had a meeting yesterday with Lord Nash [the
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools] about the future of the school, and informed him of the campaign to keep the school open. Lord Nash has agreed to send a special adviser from the Department of Education into Skerton to see the work that goes on there.

"If the adviser is satisfied that there is a unique education being offered at Skerton, but believes the school is failing OFSTED standards he will report back to the Department and [Education Secretary] Michael Gove will be able to turn the school into an academy. This will mean that the children and teachers will stay in place and the school will not formally close."

Academies are schools set up under a private contract between Michael Gove and a sponsor: usually either another school or a privately run, though currently non-profit-making, academy chain.

Despite this news for campaigners, who secured a 3500 signature strong petition backing the school, Mr Morris sounded a note of caution.

"If ... the adviser thinks that the school does not meet the criteria, Michael Gove will be unable to force it to convert into an academy," the MP warned. 

"The only other option if the County is set on closure is for a group of parents to lead a free school application to save the school. 

"I am hopeful that it will not come to this, and that Michael Gove will be able to convert Skerton into an academy.

"The meeting was very positive but we still have to carry on the fight. We may not be out of the woods yet but there is light emerging in the trees." 

The campaign group has welcomed this statement, which clarifies discussions which took place yesterday in London following submission of the petition in Parliament (see news story). 

It now falls to the school - both staff and pupils and local residents – to prove the school is a special case, as required for Michael Gove to make it into an academy.

It should be noted that turning the school into an Academy – taking it out of the state education system – may not prove popular in all quarters. The National Union of Teachers opposes the academisation of local schools, and is campaigning to defend a unified state education system. The NUT believes the best way to do this is for schools to remain part of the local authority family of schools.

The NUT points out that under the academies Act of 2010, the Secretary of State for Education can now 'force' a maintained school to convert into an academy due to perceived poor performance at the school but only in certain limited legal circumstances. (The NUT’s full legal advice on when this power might come into play is detailed here, and you can also about the rights of head teachers, should they find themselves being called to a meeting with a DfE academy broker.

See also:

David Morris MP presents Skerton High petition to Parliament, backs campaign to save it

Skerton High Saved?

Department for Education: Information for schools interested in becoming an academy and information for existing academies, local authorities and sponsors

National Union of Teachers on Academies  

The Guardian: No Choice but to Become an Academy?19th December 2011: Schools around the country are facing enforced conversion to academy status – against the wishes of parents, staff and governors

The Guardian: Academies
A full section on the newspaper's web site about Academies, including news stories and features weighing up the pros and cons

Skerton High Saved?

Skerton High campaigners on the terrace at the Houses of Parliament with David Morris MP. Photo courtesy Hands Off Skerton

The future of Skerton High School looks like it might be on a better footing, after news broke that it may become an academy.

Information is still a little scant, but according to a posting on the Hands off Skerton Facebook page, an officer from the Department of Education is to visit to the school and make an assessment.

From there they will then make a recommendation as to what happens to the school and it does looks as though the school will convert to an academy.

"This is something that we will fight for," says a campaigner fighting to keep the school open. 

"There is still work to be done and a load of official stuff to work through. But , we've made huge progress in the last 24 hours and everyone should now be really optimistic for the future of the school."

Lancashire's free travel scheme to help young jobless extended

Young people in Lancashire who are not in employment, education or training will continue to travel free on public transport, until March 2017.

In February 2012, as part of its investment into economic development and growth, Lancashire County Council allocated £1 million a year for five years to provide support for the travel costs of young people to help them into education, employment and training.

Later that year, the cabinet agreed to introduce a scheme to offer free bus travel within a specific travel area to all young people between the age of 16 to 18 who are not in education, employment or training, NEET. The scheme also included young parents and young carers in the same age bracket.

The county council then decided to extend the scheme until August 31 of this year.

At a meeting of Lancashire County Council's cabinet earlier this month, it was agreed to further extend the initiative until 31st March 2017.

Cabinet members also decided that:

  • Young parents and young carers classified as NEET who currently participate in the scheme will receive an additional three month's free travel on entering full time employment, training or education from this November until 31 March 2017.
  • The current scheme will also be extended to include young people between the age of 16 and 18 who are on an apprenticeship scheme organised by the county council
  • Options will be looked at to extend the scheme to include young people on apprenticeships that have not been organised by the county council
"The main idea behind the scheme is to support the many other county council initiatives to reduce the number of young people who aren't in employment, education or training," explained County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services.

"Employment officers tell us that the cost of travelling on public transport can be a real problem when placing young people with a prospective employer. This scheme will provide significant financial help to young people and will also allow them greater flexibility in choosing the location of their placement.

"I would like to thank members of the Lancashire Youth Council's steering group which has played a considerable role in shaping the scheme. In particular, they came up with the excellent idea to change the scheme so that it now includes three months additional support for those young people who've taken up a job."

Before they receive the free travel, young people have to attend an interview with staff from the young people's centres during which their application is processed. This scheme makes sure staff from ! the young people's service have one-to-one contact with members of this group and to support them getting into education, training and employment.

During the first nine months of the scheme, 3,631 passes have been issued to a total of 1,004 qualifying young people at an estimated cost of £268,080. Of these participants, some 28% of these young people have gone into training, education or employment.

New hope for Wyre Tidal Barrage?

The site of a proposed barrage on the River Wyre, which is a site of Special Scientific Interest.
Photographer: Peter Wakely
for Natural England
The Government might be set to revive plans to create an energy-generating tidal barrage scheme on the  on the River Wyre at Fleetwood – a proposal which has been on the table for over 20 years.

Following a call from Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw for a new national policy on tidal energy in the House of Commons earlier this week, Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change told him "We do have generous support for tidal energy and many tidal energy developers are coming forward with ideas, which we want to encourage."

While the expansion of nuclear energy continues to dominate the headlines when it comes to new power generation in the UK, the Coalition Government continues to investigate alternative energy sources - and Mr Ollerenshaw has been a fervent supporter of a scheme for the Wyre for some time, as we noted back in 2010.

TH Technology conducted a £200,000 study into the feasibility of a tidal energy barrage over the Wyre estuary in the early 1990s, commissioned by Lancashire County Council and the Department of Energy, which contributed a grant of £133,000 towards the investigation.

Construction News reported that the objective of the nine-month study was to establish the cost and design of the tidal energy barrage as well as its possible effects on the surrounding environment.

In 2007 Garstang Today reported that TH Technology's preliminary - and only report into the barrage study, which would be built on a Special Scientific Interest site - prompted huge controversy when it was published, with many farmers on both sides of the River Wyre fearing it would upset the tidal flow of the river and lead to flood fields on the low lying farm land.

The newspaper also reported that since the initial report suggesting a barrage was published in 1992 there have been major changes in Fleetwood's dockland which could mean a re-think for the exact location of the barrage on both sides of the river.

The study estimated that the cost of the barrage, which it was estimated would have  a generating capacity of 63.6MW, would be £90 million -- at 1991 prices. It included the construction of a nine metre wide promenade across the barrage, and considered the use of the barrage as a road crossing.

Parliament's official journal, Hansard noted that consideration of the protection of any barrage turbines from large objects would need to form part of a more detailed design study but it was felt that a "trash" screen would provide sufficient protection. Two fish passes were included in the outline design  to provide passage for migrating fish but the report also stated further work was required to more fully assess the impact of a barrage on migrating fish.

A report by the Lancaster University Renewable Energy Group in 2009 (PDF link) suggested such a barrage had a potential output of 90MW and was economically viable.

While modern plans for a barrage across the Wyre seem to have again re-surfaced, they are in fact, nothing new. An early proposal for such a scheme came from Captain John May Jameson in 1872, an civil engineer to Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood and later to a baronet’s son.

Catherine Rothwell, author of Fleetwood: A Pictorial History notes in a letter to the press in 2007 that he proposed “an iron way between both sides of the River Wyre, at the same time providing for the passage up-river of shipping”.

Her book includes a chapter on the Jameson family based on the actual correspondence of the founder of Fleetwood and upon the Fleetwood Estate papers, now at the Lancashire Record Office which she classified and catalogued while librarian at Fleetwood Library before her retirement.

Tidal Power in the UK - Case Studies
Report on the Sustainable Development Commission web site

Lancaster MP Backs HS2, despite concerns it might cost Lancaster economy up to £45 milliion in lost business

Despite recently revealed figures which indicate Lancaster may lose out if the controversial HS2 rail link is built, the plan continues to earn the support of its MP, Eric Ollerenshaw.

Earlier this month, a freedom of information request from a member of the public which was passed on to the BBC Newsnight programme revealed the extent to which cities could lose out economically due to HS2. The information, part of the research behind a report which the Government paid KPMG a quarter of a million pounds for in September, was not previously produced.

Among the the full list of places (PDF Link) which could lose out and their maximum potential economic loss, the figures suggest Lancaster could lose as much £45.51m in business, although the figures also suggest the Link could generate £7.13 million for the local economy.

The variance in the estimates will no doubt provide ammunition for both pro and oppostion groups to the scheme, and Mr Ollerenshaw seems resolute in his continued support.

"Obviously many of us who support HS2 hope it will go through to Glasgow and Edinburgh and cannot understand why we do not start building from there now," he said during the debate that lead to a vote in favour of preparatory work beginning on the route in the House of Commons yesterday, "but be that as it may."

Mr Ollerenshaw sought clarification from government that should the link go ahead, future builds might see cities between Manchester and Glasgow left out of the scheme as a potential stop on a high-speed line to Glasgow – including Lancaster.

The Stop HS2 campaign site, which only reported on the highest figures cities might lose, notes the KPMG report itself was widely trashed in September by academics and economics as it relied on a brand new untested methodology, which ignored many of the factors which influence economic activity. As such, it was dismissed as nothing but a PR exercise, which the revelation that negative economic impacts were missed out underlines.

David Morris MP presents Skerton High petition to Parliament, backs campaign to save it

Skerton High pupils and Robyn Holtham with David Morris MP in London yesterday. Photo courtesy Hands Off Skerton

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has presented a petition to save Skerton High Schoool to Parliament, signed by 3500 people opposed to the closure plans outlined by Lancashire County Council.

"I am extremely proud to present this petition on behalf of nearly 3,500 members of staff, students and parents of Skerton community high school and the wider community of Skerton," he said in his presentation. "I am also proud to be wearing the school tie."

A group of students, led by parent, Robyn Holtham, were in the House of Commons Public Gallery to see the petition presented yesterday.

The petitioners started their campaign in September, when they were told that Skerton High School faced closure by the county council.

"Skerton community high school has fantastic pastoral care and all the students are immensely happy there," said Mr Morris. "I therefore urge the House to support the community of Skerton and the children and parents of Skerton community high school in their fight to keep the school open."

The County Council's consultation on the closure closed on 25th October. The Council's grounds for closure - vigorously challenged by campaigners – are based on low pupil numbers and an inadequate Ofsted inspection.

The petition states:

The Petition of pupils, parents and staff of Skerton Community High School and others in the Skerton community, declares that the Petitioners believe that Skerton Community High School provides excellent pastoral care and caters for a high number of special needs students and thus the

Petitioners do not believe that it should be closed.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to support the school in its bid to remain open."

Appeal after man assaulted in Lancaster

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a man was assaulted in Lancaster city centre following an altercation in a bar.

The assault took place sometime between 12.30am and 2.30am on Sunday 27th October when the 26 year old victim, who was on a night out with a group of friends, was involved in an altercation with another group in Revolution bar on Penny Street before being ejected.

The victim was then been cut off from his group of friends and was walking down Penny Street near to KFC when he was assaulted by at least two or three people from the other group and knocked to the floor. He was assisted by nearby door staff but the offenders made off.

PC Ben Hanley said: “The victim sustained bruising to his head and face and I would appeal to anybody that thinks they may have witnessed this assault to contact police.

“I would also appeal to a taxi driver and a local member of door staff who attempted to intervene in the incident."

Anyone with any information about this incident should contact Lancashire Police on 101.

People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Remembrance Sunday services announced

This year's Remembrance Sunday falls on 10th November and a number of services have been arranged in the Lancaster district.

Everyone is welcome to go along to remember all who died for their country in the two World Wars and also those injured or traumatised by more recent operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq.

The Poppy Appeal run by the Royal British Legion is hoping to raise £37 Million for injured service personnel this year. There's more information on the official web site and poppies are on sale throughout the area.

White Poppies, the creation of the Peace Pledge Union, are on sale from Single Step in Penny Street. The white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the white poppy supporters lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers - but a challenge to the continuing drive to war. The following year the newly founded Peace Pledge Union began widespread distribution of the poppies and their annual promotion.

Remembrance Day services will take place as follows:


Garden of Remembrance, Town Hall, Lancaster commencing at 10.20am, followed by a service in the Priory Church at 11.30am.  There will be a parade and March Past leaving the Priory Church and ending at Lancaster Town Hall at approximately 12.20pm.


Cenotaph, Marine Road – Procession will form up at the Platform at approximately 10.20am for a service and two minutes silence at the Cenotaph.


Parade will leave the Carnforth Town Council offices at 10.35am for a service and wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph.

To help people to pay their respects, Lancaster City Council has suspended parking charges on the car parks at the Bay Arena in Morecambe and Nelson Street in Lancaster on this day.

For further information about the services or to express an interest in laying a wreath contact the Mayor’s Office, Town Hall, Lancaster, LA1 1PJ, call (01524) 582070 or email

Safety Warning after illegal fireworks found on sale in North West

Lancashire County Council has issued a warning that illegal and potentially dangerous fireworks may be on sale in the county.

The Lancashire Trading Standards Service warning follows reports from Merseyside Police that bangers, sometimes boxed with the brand name "Tapirki", have been found on sale in areas of the north west.

Bangers consist of a small tube, a few inches in length, filled with gunpowder with a short fuse on top. After bangers are lit, they are thrown onto the ground and, after a short pause, explode with a loud bang. They can be sold individually or in packs of 10.

Bangers were banned for sale to the public in 1997 after concerns over their safety and use in anti-social behaviour.

The bangers that have been found on sale are poorly constructed, often with short fuses, which could explode very quickly once lit causing injury to anyone holding them.

County Councillor Janice Hanson, Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Waste, said:

"We don't want to be killjoys but bangers were banned for very good reason. While bangers have so far not been found on sale in Lancashire over this bonfire period, I want to warn residents to be vigilant.

"Bangers are illegal for sale and could pose a serious danger. Members of the public should not buy or use such illegal fireworks.

"Anyone who has information about the sale of bangers should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on telephone 08454 04 05 06."

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Paul Chadwick sentenced for Bolton-le-Sands manslaughter

Lisa Clay and Joseph Chadwick
A man has today (Wednesday 30th October) been sentenced after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of his partner and son on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Paul Chadwick, 34, of Lowlands Road in Bolton-le-Sands, admitted killing his partner Lisa Clay, 40, and 6 year old son Joseph Chadwick at the family home on April 9th 2013 when he appeared at Preston Crown Court last month.

Today he has been sentenced to a hospital order under section 37 under the Mental Health Act 1983. He is also subject to a restriction order under section 41 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Police attended Lowlands Road following a call from a family member who had been trying to get hold of the Chadwicks. Once inside the house they found the body of Joseph in his bedroom, and Lisa in the hallway. Paul Chadwick was also inside the house and had received a number of self-inflicted injuries for which he required hospital treatment.

“This was an absolutely tragic case involving the death of a woman and a young child in horrific circumstances," commenetd Detective Superintendent Paul Withers from the Force Major Investigation Team.

"While we will probably never know exactly why Paul Chadwick did what he did I am satisfied with today’s sentence and pleased the family were spared the ordeal of a trial.

“Our thoughts remain with those affected by this most appalling case.”

Try your hand at setting the Lancashire County Council budget

In an effort to shed light on the problems it faces from reduced government funding, Lancashire County Council has launched a new online budget calculator where people can create their own council budget, to help them understand the challenges involved.

The Council hopes the calculator will help people think about the county council services that they believe are the most important and try to balance the budget. Adjusting the budget calculator changes the funding for a particular service which automatically changes the funding available for other areas.

Services listed on the calculator include cultural services (such as libraries and museums), roads and public transport, environment and Trading Standards, waste management, children and young people, adult social care and public protection; and the general costs of running the council.

Just like Lancaster City Council, which also faces further funding cuts, senior managers and Cabinet members will be working together over the coming months to develop budget proposals to save £300m in the next four years. People using the budget calculator can leave comments and suggestions that will be taken into account as part of this process.

Having tried it, it's clear no area will be left unaffected if the Council is to achieve the 0% council tax rise Government has demanded of them, despite inflation rises that impact on costs.

However, the calculator doesn't allow for users to simply decide to cut a major infrastructure project (such as the controversial M6 link) as this money is not really in the Council's pocket, even though they will be expected to pay for any cost overrruns.

Neither does the calculator appear to allow for much room in terms of raising revenues, or take into account, for example, that increasing bus services might increase revenues in that area.

County Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader of the council and finance portfolio holder, said: "Setting the budget is extremely challenging as we have to balance competing demands and requirements in the face of a very difficult financial settlement. The budget calculator allows people to experience some of this for themselves.

"It's important that the public knows the scale of the challenge we're facing. We have to save £300m from 2014 to 2018, which is more than a third of the county council's current budget. This is due to further cuts in! funding from government, increasing costs and rising demand for services.

"By taking a longer term view, we believe that we can place a greater focus on ways of preventing cost increases, such as preventative measures and early intervention."

Leader of the county council Jennifer Mein said: "The county council has already had to save £222m over the current three-year budget, but there is no doubt this next period will be even more challenging.

"As a new administration we are doing a considerable amount of work to understand the options available and develop a strategy for finding these savings.

"What is already clear, however, is that this won't be a case of simply delivering the same services on a slightly smaller scale. We will have to do something more radical to enable the council to continue serving residents effectively, with an emphasis on those in most need."

The budget calculator will be available until 9th December 2013.

• To try the budget calculator, visit

The Eyes Have it for Hallowe'en in Lancaster!

Ulverston artist Amanda Godden was in Lancaster's Market Gate Shopping Centre yesterday for the Hallowe'en Half Term, to get kids painting scary eyeballs and min-pumpkins!

There are plenty of scary Hallowe'en displays around Lancaster and Morecambe this year – what's you favourite? Why not submit it to the virtual-lancaster tumblr? (Note: no more than one picture at a time, otherwise it won't reach us - sorry!)

Photos by Alan Phillips.

Remember Remember Hedgehogs on 5th of November...

Every year, hundreds of hedgehogs die unnecessarily in garden bonfires... Please help prevent these deaths by checking your own fireworks night bonfire before you set it, and sharing this film by Mark Sharman, narrated by BBC One Show presenter Mike Dilger, which features  Queen's Brian May, an advocate of British wildlife.

Mark's film is sponsored by Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue.

The owner of Goodnight Boutique, drew this poster about the dangers of bonfires to hedgehogs and friends for the  British Hedgehog Preservation Society
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is running its own campaign on this front, backed by TV's Ben Fogle.

To save hedgehogs and other wildlife from appalling suffering the Society urges that bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit. This will not only save wildlife from burning to death but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked should it rain the night before!

“Piles of bonfire material look like five star hotels to a hedgehog in search of a hibernation site," explains Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS. "It is crucial to dismantle and move bonfire material that has been stored in advance on open ground. Move it to another spot just before lighting. Ensure it’s moved to clear ground - never on top of a pile of leaves as there could be a hedgehog underneath, and not too close to pampas grass which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under.”

Society Patron Ben Fogle added "It's awful to think of poor hedgehogs being burnt alive on bonfire night, please, please check fire piles carefully before lighting them. Hedgehogs are a species in decline, every single one is precious."

If a large bonfire has to be built in advance, protect it whilst building by putting some chicken wire one metre high all the way around the bottom. This should be held in place with stakes and the wire should slope outwards at an angle to make it difficult to climb, as hedgehogs are good climbers!

If, whilst building, a bonfire is left unattended, for however short a time; it’s imperative to check for young children, hedgehogs and other animals, including family pets, before lighting. As hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed.

“If hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling," says Fay. "Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers. Wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to minimise stress caused to the hedgehog, also, it protects your hands from their spikes.

"Put the box in a safe place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities, as fireworks can terrify them, and offer them meaty cat or dog food and fresh water to drink. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs with more food and water.”

Going to an official organised fireworks display such as Light Up Lancaster is a far safer option for both humans and animals.

• For free advice and to obtain the names of carers in your area in advance of bonfire night, contact the BHPS on 01584 890 801 or see their website at

• Brian May's "Save Me" Site:

Police offer advice on Cutting "Clock Back Crime"

Lancashire's police officer  are urging residents to lock up to keep burglars out in line with clocks going back on Sunday 27th October.

The advice comes as part of Operation Julius, the countywide burglary crackdown and due to nights going darker sooner in the run up to Christmas.

Traditionally, there is a rise in burglaries in the winter period, especially in the run up to Christmas as people are buying their festive gifts, which potential burglars are aware of.

Insecure windows and doors are still a common factor, with around one in three burglaries taking place as a result of property that has been left open or not secured properly.

To avoid becoming a victim of burglary, residents are advised to follow the following crime prevention advice:

Lock up: Always make sure your windows and doors are locked, including side gates. Fit an alarm system, ensure it’s activated and add strong locks to sheds, garages and other outbuildings.
  • Keep it ‘safe’: Consider putting valuables in a secure safe.
  • Con the criminal: Think about leaving a light on when you go out. Timers will turn lights on and off at pre-set times.
  • Light up: Consider fitting outdoor security lighting.
  • Remove the means: After the autumn tidy in the garden make sure that all garden tools and equipment are locked away. Spades are a favourite of burglars who use them to force windows and patio doors.
  • Increase your chances of getting your property back: Security mark property using a permanent UV marker pen. If your property is recovered, the police are more likely to be able to get it back to you.
  •  Join forces: Join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme in your area and if there isn’t one, consider starting one.
  • Be in the know: Residents can sign up to Lancashire Constabulary’s free messaging service, In the Know, to receive crime alerts – including about burglaries - relating to their area.
  • Lock your car and keep valuables out of sight: Electronic devices left on show in vehicles, such as sat navs, MP3 players, mobile phones and laptop computers, account for the majority of goods stolen from vehicles.
Superintendent Damian Darcy said: “We tend to see a rise in burglaries at this time with the darker nights and opportunist thieves knowing that people are starting to buy Christmas gifts for their loved ones.

“Whilst this is something we all do and should continue to do, I would advise people to take precautions and do your best to keep the burglars out by ensuring that all your doors and windows are secure and locked, when you aren’t in the room as these are open invites to thieves.

“I would also urge the public to follow our top tips to beat the burglar in their area, remain vigilant and if they spot anything suspicious, call us on 101 or 999 in an emergency."

• For information on In the Know, or neighbourhood watch schemes, visit

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Government moves ahead with new rights to film Council meetings

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has announced that a new law will be put before Parliament to give the press and public new rights to film and report council meetings, including those conducted by Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council.

The legal changes to be sent to Parliament by Mr Pickles will enshrine in the law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England, which some councils have apparently tried to block.

The new laws will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which is set to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, having completed its Lords stages.

The Bill will abolish the residual parts of the Audit Commission, protect local press from taxpayer-funded newspapers, and close legal loopholes so that council tax bills are fully accountable to local taxpayers.

Last year, the government changed secondary legislation to open up councils’ executive meetings to the press and public. However, this did not apply to councils’ committee meetings or full council, nor to parish councils. Mr Pickles asked councils to open up their committee meetings, but many councils are still not complying.

A recent report from the Tax Payers’ Alliance revealed a number of councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who were still keeping democracy behind closed doors. Some councils had even banned local residents from recording, blogging and tweeting at council meetings.

In 2011, Jacqui Thompson (twitter link), author of the blog Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More, was using her phone to record a meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council during an angry debate on the closure of a day club for local elderly people.

According to her blog, she was in the public gallery when the row over the day club broke out, and began filming proceedings. She was asked to leave by the council chairman who called the police when she refused. Ten minutes later, four police officers arrived and, as the New Statesman notes, she was arrested, handcuffed, marched to a police car, and then detained at a police station for two hours.

To make matters worse, the events led to a libel case and some very suspect activity using public money, events reported in detail here and here on the Broken Barnet blog as well as Jacqui's own site.
Ministers believe some councils are clinging to outdated analogue ideals in the face of a digital age.

“An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy," argues Mr Pickles. "We have given councils more power, but local people need to be able to hold their councils to account.

“We are taking action against town hall Pravdas which are undermining the independent free press, but I want to do more to help the new cadre of hyper-local journalists and bloggers.

“I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders. Councillors should not be shy about the good work that they do.

“This new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all. My department is standing up for press freedom.”

In June, Eric Pickles published Your Council’s Cabinet a new guide for local residents explaining how they can attend and report their local council meetings. The new guidance explicitly stated that councils should allow the public to film, blog and tweet council meetings.

It explicitly stated that councillors and council officers can be filmed at council meetings, and corrects misconceptions that the Data Protection Act somehow prohibits this.
The Telegraph reported on the same day of the Guide's release that the Health and Safety Executive has also confirmed that ‘health and safety ‘regulations’ do not bar filming, which Wirral Council used to justify a filming ban last year.
The new guide also outlined the assorted rights that taxpayers’ have to access council papers and documents.

Bizarrely, despite the huge national coverage of Jacqui Thompson's case - she is still hoping to appeal libel judgement handed down on 15th March 2013 follow - the new proposals to allow public filming of council meetings don't apply to Wales.

Heysham firm fined £91,000 after worker engulfed in fireball

A Heysham firm which manufactures airport fuel tanks has been ordered to pay £91,000 in fines and costs after a father-of-three suffered horrific injuries in an explosion.

Karol Robaczewski was cleaning the inside of a 20,000 litre fuel tank, known as a bowser, when he was engulfed by a fireball that caused severe burns and left him almost completely paralysed.

Fuel Proof Ltd was prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident at Middleton Industrial Estate in Heysham on 9th September 2011 identified serious safety failings.

Preston Crown Court heard the 38-year-old, from Morecambe, had climbed through a manhole cover on top of the six-metre-long tank and was cleaning the inside by applying a highly flammable solvent to a cloth and then wiping down the walls.

Mr Robaczewski decided that the lamp inside the tank was getting too hot and so he pulled the plug from its socket. As he did this, a spark caused the fumes to ignite and he was surrounded by flames, which were witnessed shooting into the air up to two meters above the manhole cover.

The fire was so hot that it melted the visor on his mask and his protective suit, so that only the elastic from the collar and cuffs were left.

Mr Robaczewski suffered multiple burns over most of his body, including his arms, legs and face, his hair and eyebrows were burnt off, and his lips badly burnt. He was in hospital for three months and is now almost totally paralysed.

The HSE investigation found the method of cleaning the fuel tanks with a highly flammable solvent had been used since 2007, but Fuel Proof had failed to carry out any kind of risk assessment.

There was no supervision of workers or monitoring of the fumes inside the tank, and the masks and lighting provided were entirely unsuitable.

The court was told the tanks needed to be spotlessly clean before being delivered to customers in the aviation industry to avoid dirt getting into the fuel used by aeroplanes. Workers took it in turns to clean each tank as the build-up of fumes from the solvent made them feel sick.

The day after the incident, the company decided it did not need to use a solvent to clean the fuel tank and instead used soapy water.

Fuel Proof Ltd was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £25,000 after pleading guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 28 October 2013.

“Karol suffered horrific injuries in the explosion and will need to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life," said HSE Inspector Rose Leese-Welle after the hearing.

“It is shocking that Fuel Proof allowed workers to use a highly flammable solvent to clean the inside of fuel tanks for four years without giving a single thought to the risks.

“What’s even more appalling is that there was never any need for workers to use solvents to clean the tanks, as the company now uses soapy water to clean them out.

“Firms should carefully consider whether they actually need to use flammable substances and, if they do, then find a safe way of using them, so that no one else has to suffer the terrible injuries inflicted on Karol.”

“I wish that what has happened to me never happens to anyone else," says  Mr Robaczewski. "I am not able to lift my arms, move my legs and feet or hold anything in my fingers and hands.

“Every morning after breakfast, I am moved into my wheelchair and stay there until it’s time for bed.

“Generally, I am very bored and frustrated. I am not able to do anything I used to do before the accident such as drive a car, go to karate sessions or play my trumpet which I played since the age of 12.

“I can’t play football with my son or give my children a cuddle, and my life will never be the same again.”

• Information on preventing workplace fires and explosions is available at

Monday, 28 October 2013

In Review: Pascal Rogé at Live at LICA

Pascal Rogé 
Pascal Rogé - Celebrity Recital
Live at LICA
Thursday, 24 October 2013
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University.
Reviewed by Sally Ryde

From the outset, we knew Monsieur Rogé’s concert was going to be different. The lights over the stage dimmed noticeably and before playing a single note, the artiste turned to the audience to speak.

He asked us for a favour. Would we please restrain our enthusiasm until the end - that is, not to applaud between pieces. The evening would be a “cultural musical” journey. And if we didn’t like the lighting, we should not complain to the university but instead see M. Rogé himself afterwards.

With that, Pascal Rogé launched into a programme consisting wholly of late 19th century and early 20th century French piano music. (The young couple from Huddersfield who had picked up on the Live at LICA event through Groupon were delighted. French was her degree course and piano was her passion.)

Fortunately for me, and others who were not so well-versed in the French keyboard repertoire, there was enough familiar Debussy to keep us going through the uncharted spaces of Poulenc and Ravel. It was certainly a “cultural musical” exploration - particularly the Poulenc, about whose piano music I knew very little. We were helped in navigating through the foreign territory to some extent by M. Rogé’s body language. He would signal the beginning of a new piece by adjusting his posture slightly. We knew then to turn the pages of our printed programmes.

A programme filled with popular favourites it surely was not but the recital began with Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, the third movement of which is possibly one of the best known and best loved pieces ever composed for piano. When the iconic opening chords of ‘Clair de lune’ wafted through the Great Hall, any residual audience noises quickly died to an absolute silence. It was the kind of atmosphere that is frankly disturbing because of the deeply sickening feeling that even the quietest mobile telephone sound could spoil its perfection at any moment. No ring tone this time, but I wish I could report that the wonderfully overwhelming silence had been maintained throughout the movement...

I would not have been surprised to have observed more empty seats after the interval but only because of the specialist nature of the programme. Clearly though, 99% of the audience had come to enjoy the extraordinary “cultural musical” experience offered by M. Rogé at the start. As a lady on the front row said, it was as though we had all been invited into his personal music room and been allowed to overhear his own private music making.

If anything, the amount of restrained enthusiasm that built up was even greater in the second half. During the closing curtain call, there were some shouts of praise from those who fully understood just how deeply into the Romantic French catalogue they had been escorted by this unusual performer. Those who later checked out Pascal Rogé on the internet, as I did, will have been fascinated by his life choices, both past and present.

As a sop to those who had hoped for a few evergreens that often appear in piano concerts everywhere and who were left feeling baffled by two hours of new and unfamiliar keyboard material, as an encore M. Rogé finished the evening with a Classic FM favourite: Erik Satie’s well-known Gymnopédie No. 1.

So what happened during the exquisite overwhelming silence which greeted Debussy’s ‘Clair de lune’? Only that more than one member of the audience suddenly decided that this was an appropriate point in the concert to cough and splutter loudly! Perhaps Live at LICA should preface all future concerts with two announcements: turn off your mobile ‘phones AND do not cough or make other intrusive noises during the concert!

Oh, and the instrument itself. I could have sat there for the entire two hours just admiring that Steinway grand in all its magnificence!

S. Ryde

Artist’s website:

Concert Programme:
C. Debussy: Suite Bergamasque
M. Ravel: Sonatine
F. Poulenc: Les Soirées de Nazelles
E. Satie: Gnossiennes, No. 3 & 5
F. Poulenc:
   Improvisation No. 15 Hommage à Edith Piaf
   Improvisation No. 12 Hommage à Schubert
   Improvisation No. 14 in Db Major
   Improvisation No. 6 in Bb Major
C. Debussy: Two Arabesques
C. Debussy: Images, Book 2
C. Debussy: L’Isle Joyeuse

Tickets were priced (web advance):  Adults £21.50, Concessions £18.50, Young person/student £7.50

Future musical events at Live at LICA:

Lancashire's Police specials in awareness-raising week

Lancashire’s Special Constabulary is allowing the public to get an insight into the work that they do as they launch an awareness-raising week.

Volunteer officers from Lancashire Constabulary will be taking part in a range of operations across the county from Wednesday 30th October until Tuesday 5th November.

They will be taking part in a range of policing activities, ranging from policing the busy towns and cities during the evening and carrying out reassurance patrols, to getting involved in specialist operations for Halloween and bonfire night.

Nigel Walters, the Chief Officer of Lancashire’s Special Constabulary, said: “The intention of this week is to raise awareness of the work that the Special Constabulary does in Lancashire.

“In 2012/2013, over 400 special officers contributed more than 120,000 hours of volunteering, working alongside their regular police officer and police community support officer colleagues.

“The Special Constabulary is an integral part of policing in the county and we simply want to reflect on the work we do to keep communities safe.”

Chief Superintendent Bill McMahon added: “Our Special Constabulary is a valuable resource – special constables get involved with the community and make a real difference to the people living there.

“This week is an opportunity to recognise the fantastic work that our Special Constabulary does day-in-day-out to help keep the communities of Lancashire safe.”

Officers will be tweeting throughout the week using the hashtag #specialsweek on their Twitter account, which can be followed @LancsSCCOTeam. The Special Constabulary also have a page on Facebook which can be found be searching ‘Lancashire Constabulary specials’.

Chief Officer Walters will also host a question and answer session on Twitter on Friday 1 November from 7.00pm until 8.00pm.

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

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

• Anyone interested in finding out more about the work of the Special Constabulary or who is interested in becoming a special constable should call 01772 410392

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Former Health Secretary Alan Milburn recalls life at Lancaster University

Former Health Secretary Alan Milburn, who graduated from Lancaster with a degree in history in 1979, was interviewed about his time at Lancaster University during a visit last week and

He was speaking on a visit to campus where he delivered a public lecture on social mobility.

Grub's up at Lancashire's biggest-ever school lunch

Thousands of pupils and their guests will be tucking in to what might be the country's largest-ever school dinner on 7th November.

As part of Lancashire County Council's celebration of National School Meals Week (4-8th November), up to 73,000 primary school children will be sitting down to roast chicken and all the trimmings or pasta and salad, followed by a homemade raspberry bun or fruit and yogurt.

And they are inviting their local county councillors along to see for themselves how delicious school lunches are.

Not only will children and their guests be eating together, but on that day the special menu will be served in the county council's care homes and in its Reflections cafeteria at County Hall in Preston.

The latest 'satisfaction survey' for school meals shows that they're going down well. Nearly 90% of heads at primary and secondary schools say there is a high level of satisfaction with the service provided and 75% would unhesitatingly recommend the service.

County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "School lunches are great these days, healthy and tasty, and planned to comply with nutritional standards.

"I've got a busy schedule that week but I'll make sure I don't miss out on my school lunch!

"The week deserves to be a great success and I'm sure it will be. Our school meals and kitchen staff work so hard to produce nutritionally balanced meals that children will love.

"In particular, I hope that children who don't usually take school dinners will enjoy their lunch so much that they join the thousands who do. Increased uptake means more children are getting a great meal at lunchtime."

November also sees a new menu for primary schools, based on the theme of homemade 'old favourites'. The main dishes featured will include roast beef and yorkshire pudding, meat and potato pie, spaghetti bolognese and turkey korma.

Kitchen staff are having 'master class' sessions run by the workforce development team to refresh their skills.

• You can follow the big school meal debate on Twitter or Facebook using #LancsBigLunch or send us your pictures @LancashireCC

Lancaster Canal Trust reports positive year, new faces join team

The Waterwitch
The Lancaster Canal Trust held its annual Boatman’s Dinner at the Crooklands Hotel near Kendal last Friday, attracting 35 supporters attending from a large area, including Darwen, Bolton, Lancaster Morecambe Penrith and beyond.

The ’boat people’, as they are affectionately called, run, organise and generally look after the Narrow Boat Waterwitch that sails from Crooklands landing stage from May to October, taking donations and promoting the difficult and expensive restoration of the Lancaster Canal.

Alan Mather, the Trust's Boat Operations Manager reported a successful year for the organisation, revealing that despite the continuing recession, donations have risen to double over last year and the team had a very good season.

Richard Trevitt, Chairman of the Trust, then introduced Keith Tassart as guest speaker, who worked for many years for British Waterways and has now taken on the job of Work Party Supervisor for the Trust.

Keith has many stories to tell about life on the Lancaster. Once while working a dredger, a substantial steel heavy craft, he heard a crash and found a glass fibre boat had rammed them thinking they could push the dredger out of the way. They had to rescue the man and his wife and lash the boat to the dredger before it sank!

• The Lancaster Canal Trust would welcome similar stories from other ex British Waterways people  that should be recorded, all will be welcome. Contact via: