Wednesday, 16 April 2014

North West MEP Chris Davies leads vote to end Farage expenses loophole

Chris Davies MEP
The European Parliament has backed a call by Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West Chris Davies to close an expenses regime that has allowed some MEPs to divert money intended to pay for office costs into their private income.

Newspapers claimed this month that UKIP leader Nigel Farage cannot account for the use of the money from the 'general expenditure account' that he has been paid over the past 15 years.

Davies says that it is "sickening" that a man who pretends that he is more honest than other politicians cannot account for the use of hundreds of thousands of pounds paid to him in expenses.

And he is calling on Farage to explain whether he made reimbursement for more than £90,000 that between 1999 and 2009 was paid by the Parliament from the account into a private pension scheme.

He said. "I was elected on the same day as Nigel Farage in 1999.  I have always ensured that money paid to me for office costs has been used for that purpose.  Farage should be able to produce the same evidence if he wants to claim to be different."

MEPs receive an annual allowance of £44,000 which is intended to cover the cost of rents, telephone bills and all expenditure associated with the running of an office.  The money is paid into a MEPs private bank account and the Parliament trusts individuals to use it in accordance with the rules.  There is no requirement for receipts to be kept, although many British MEPs do so and publish details of their expenditure.  Davies publishes his accounts on his website at

The lack of official scrutiny has long been condemned by Chris Davies, who in 2008 became an expenses whistleblower when he made public the contents of a secret auditor's report into the use by some MEPs of money intended for staff employment.  His actions helped bring about a change in the Parliament's rules.

An amendment he tabled calling for the office allowance to be properly supervised was approved by 288 to 271 votes two weeks ago, and should formally be ratified by MEPs meeting in Strasbourg today (Wednesday).

Davies commented: "I have tabled this proposal many times over the years but this is the first time it has gained majority support.  I was surprised that the Conservative leader in the Parliament, Martin Callanan, voted against.

"The rules governing MEPs' expenditure have been tightened over the years but they still do not meet the standards we would expect of other public bodies.

"In the absence of regulatory procedures it has been up to individual MEPs to set their own standards and do what is right.  We get generous expenses and we should account for them properly.  I made sure 15 years ago that I would never have control of the bank account into which this money is paid.

"Nigel Farage should explain now whether he made reimbursement for the £90,000 or more that will have been paid from this account into his parliamentary pension fund from 1999 to 2009, and what has happened to the rest of the money."

Rt Hon Sir Robert Atkins
The News of the World on Sunday (11 May 2008) revealed that the then Conservative MEP for the North West David Sumberg had paid his wife more than £95,000 in some years for "secretarial assistance", despite the fact that he has made only two speeches in the European Parliament since 2004.  

Right Hon or Write-Off?
Another Conservative MEP for the North West, the Rt Hon Sir Robert Atkins, was revealed as having both his pensioner wife and his son salaried at more than £2,500 a month each.

Chris Davies has a history of whistleblowing on attempts in the European Parliament to cover up reports into the abuse of expenses. He has led the campaign for wholesale reform and complete openness by all MEPs.

Dukes steps back to the turn of the 20th Century for "The Life and Times of Mitchell & Kenyon"

Here are a selection of production shots for The Life And Times Of Mitchell & Kenyon which runs at The Dukes in Lancaster from  19th April until 10th May and at Oldham Coliseum Theatre from 15th - 31st May.

Blackburn, 1995. In a dusty old shop two workmen make a startling discovery when they unearth a treasure trove of film reels once thought lost to the ages.

Blackburn, 1897. Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon make their first factory-gate films and embark on a filmmaking partnership that will change their lives forever.

Daragh Carville’s brand new play celebrates the life and times of Lancashire icons Mitchell & Kenyon. Celebrate the spirit of the music hall in a show – no, an extravaganza! - full of songs, laughter and the original films themselves.

Spend an evening with these film-making pioneers who showed audiences their world as they had never seen it before and made cinema history along the way.

Director Amy Leach (Sabbat) and film projection specialists imitating the dog combine theatre and film to tell this unique tale of the birth of modern cinema.

There's more information and how to book tickets here on The Dukes web site

• The Dukes is hosting a Charity Gala of this show on Friday 25th April

• Watch the films of Mitchell and Kenyon FREE OF CHARGE on the new BFI Player

Local Cinema Round-Up for 16th to 24th April 2014 by Peter Clarke

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

New releases during this period include comedy with The Love Punch (12A) and The Other Woman (12A); science fiction with Transcendence (12A) and action/adventure with The Raid 2 (18).

Films no longer being screened are Epic, Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy and 12 Years a Slave. Also this week looks like the last chance to catch The Grand Budapest Hotel, The LEGO movie, Mr Peabody & ShermanMuppets Most Wanted and Frozen.

Alternative options are provided by RSC Encore: Richard II (12A), and Vikings Live from the British Museum (12A).


Director: Neil Burger
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Kate Winslet, Theo James, Shailene Woodley
The movie is based on Veronica Roth's popular trilogy. Tris (Woodley) is a 16 year old girl living in Chicago after a war which wiped out most of civilisation. Society has been divided into different factions and as teens come of age they undergo tests to decide which faction will contain them. Yet Tris proves to be divergent, not fitting into any of the factions and divergent people are considered a threat to the status quo. She must work with the mysterious Four (James) to determine why being divergent is considered to be so dangerous. The movie is rather a slow starter. However the cast is full of talent, there is some nice dialogue and the film finishes with a tense climax. A must see movie if you have read and enjoyed Roth's books.

Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad,Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all ages.

Mr Peabody & Sherman
Director: Rob Minkoff
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter
A DreamWorks comedy animation. Mr Peabody is a dog, but this does not stop him being an inventor, scientist, sportsman and general genius. Accompanied by his boy Sherman, the duo use their WABAC time machine in order to impress Sherman's friend Penny. However during their adventures meeting famous characters of history,they accidentally rip a hole in the Universe. As a result they must repair history in order to save the future. A great yarn and appealing family movie. There is little here to offend the youngest of children, and some of the jokes will entertain an older audience.

Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Eric Jacobson, Steve Whitmire
A long awaited sequel to 'The Muppets' in which the entire Muppet cast undertake a sell out world tour. However Constantine (a Kermit lookalike and major criminal) and his right hand man Dominic (Gervais) involve the Muppets in an international crime heist. The film is an upbeat Disney musical comedy that will appeal to all ages and generates plenty of laughs. An excellent film.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
A movie based on the biblical story of Noah and the flood, but it takes quite a bit of artistic license. Crowe and Watson as Noah and Ila respectively give excellent performances and this is epic movie which very much goes its own way. With stunning effects and some surreal sequences this is a very entertaining film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Tony Revolori
An idiosyncratic movie telling the adventures of Gustav (Fiennes) the concierge at the Budapest hotel and his friend Zero Moustafa (Revolori). The film is full of madcap characters and is filmed in the classic Anderson style. Set in Europe between the wars, the film tells the story of the theft of a Renaissance painting and disputes over fortunes. The movie has a star-studded cast and much of the plot of interlocking stories is told in flashbacks. A fine comedy making this a must see movie.

The Love Punch
Director: Joel Hopkins
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Tuppence Middleton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie
Richard and Kate (Brosnan and Thompson) are a divorced couple who hit financial hard times as Richard is facing bankruptcy as a result of a corporation wiping out his company's pension fund. Vincent, the villainous boss of the corporation, has used these proceeds to buy a diamond necklace for his own bride. Richard and Kate, along with friends Jerry and Penelope (Spall and Imrie) decide to get revenge by stealing the necklace and using this to replenish the retirement fund. This is a comedy with big name stars set in an exotic location. The humour seems a little contrived at times but in all it works well to make a genuinely funny and entertaining movie.

The Quiet Ones
Director: John Pogue
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Sam Claflin, Erin Richards, Jared Harris, Olivia Cooke
A Hammer Horror film set in 1974. Professor Coupland (Harris), helped by a group of university students, relocates to a country estate in order to try an unorthodox cure for a mentally unstable woman Jane Harper (Cooke) with malignant alter ego Evey. The experiment is recorded by cameraman Brian McNeil (Claflin). This is a stylish movie with impressive visual effects. However the performances of the students are a little wooden and the film does not break any new ground. However in all a competent and gripping horror film.

Director: Wally Pfister
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany
Dr Will Caster (Depp), a brilliant scientist in the field of researching artificial intelligence, is creating a sentient computer called PINN. However anti-technology extremists embark on a series of of attacks against the artificial intelligence community and Dr Caster is one of the casualties. In order to survive he digitises and loads his consciousness into the computer. Here he starts a quest for knowledge and for power that seems unstoppable. The film is well produced and visually appealing. However the characters come across as rather wooden and the topics examined in this film have already been explored in earlier science fiction movies.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Green Party leader to visit Lancaster tomorrow to host public meeting on women in politics

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party. Image: Green Party
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and European election candidate for the region, councillor Gina Dowding, will host a public meeting in Lancaster tomorrow, Wednesday 16th April, to discuss the role of women in politics.

Earlier in the day they will meet with local businesses and visit the Lancaster co-housing and hydro project.

The public meeting, 'What space for a women's agenda in politics in 2014?' will see Natalie Bennett describe her experiences of operating in what can still be seen as a ‘man’s world’. A trustee of the Fawcett Society, Britain’s pre-eminent women’s issues group, she was the founder of the blog Carnival of Feminists and is an active campaigner on women’s issues.

Since becoming leader of the Green Party in 2012, former Guardian journalist, Natalie Bennett has spoken and listened to many women's groups up and down the country on issues ranging from equal pay and worker’s rights to Female Genital Mutilation.

Natalie Bennett is the only female leader of a UK national political party - and she took over from Caroline Lucas, the Green Party's first leader, which is the first time a woman political party leader has handed over to another woman in British political history.

“Since becoming party leader I’ve been working hard to support and develop the talent of women within the Green Party," said Natalie. "It’s really important that we have female voices in both local and national politics so that all views within our society are represented. The Greens have a good mix here in Lancaster and that’s something I’d like to see the other parties work towards. Much of our political culture isn’t very conducive to women’s participation and that’s something our Green MP, Caroline Lucas has been trying to change since she arrived in parliament in 2010.

She continued: “In the European election campaign you have Nick vs Nigel on the TV and UKIP in the European Parliament with a group of nine MEPs – all older white men. I think UK politics could benefit from some different voices being part of the debate.”

The party leader is in the North West region ahead of May’s local and European elections. The Green Party is the fourth largest group in the European Parliament with 58 MEPs, working on issues as diverse as workers' rights, energy, transport, fishing, international development, environmental protection and employment. In 2009 the North West Green Party’s Peter Cranie lost out on a seat in the European Parliament by just 0.3% of the vote. Instead the British National Party’s leader, Nick Griffin, became the region’s MEP. The Greens are hoping to break through this May.

• "What space for a women's agenda in politics in 2014?" TIME: 7.30pm for 7.45pm start, Friends' Meeting House, Lancaster. More info:

Monday, 14 April 2014

Man exposes naked to woman in Lancaster

Officers in Lancaster are appealing for information after a woman encountered a naked man.

Sometime between 7:30pm and 7:45pm on Monday 7 April, a 21-year-old woman was walking along the cycle track between Vicarage Field and Long Marsh Lane.

Having heard a noise behind her, she has turned around to see a completely naked man jogging toward her. Before reaching her, the man has turned left and has jogged away from her in the direction of Lancaster Castle.

The offender is described as 5’’10’/178cm tall, of slim build, with a pale white body and short brown hair, and is in his early twenties.

DS Martin Foley of Lancaster CID said; “Understandably, this incident has left the young lady very shaken, particularly as she was walking on her own at the time.

“If anyone has any information about this man, or thinks they have witnessed or been subject to something similar, please get in touch with us.”

Less than a month ago a woman out jogging on the New Quay Road cycle track was accosted by a naked man who chased her and tried to catch hold of her waist pack. Fortunately she was able to evade him and run away. See previous story: Appeal after jogger grabbed by naked man in Lancaster

In response, Police patrols have been stepped up in the area to reassure local residents, walkers and joggers. Residents are also encouraged to take extra precautions, such as sticking to routes in busier areas, and walking with a friend or family member where possible.

Anybody with any information can contact Police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online via, citing log number LC-20140407-1239. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.