Friday, 25 July 2014

Morecambe Bay health campaigners furious over NHS privatisation VAT dodge

Health campaigners in Morecambe Bay are furious over revelations about a tax loophole which stacks the cards against NHS pharmacy providers. The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMB) is currently proposing to sell off pharmacy services in Morecambe Bay (see previous reports).

An unfair loophole in VAT rules means pharmaceutical companies such as Lloyds and Boots don’t have to pay 20 per cent VAT - but NHS providers do - meaning publicly owned medical providers must pay tax where private corporations are exempt.

A contract for pharmacy services, worth in the region of £25 million, is currently up for grabs in Morecambe Bay. Campaigners found that in the advert (tender) which announced that pharmacy services in Morecambe Bay were up for sale, the tender explicitly stated that a “key business driver” for the sale was “VAT savings”.

On Wednesday campaigners from local group No Health Selloff at Morecambe Bay  handed in a petition of more than 9,000 signatures opposing the pharmacy sell-off to John Hutton, acting chair of the UHMB Trust. Later that day Labour's local parliamentary candidate Cat Smith told a public meeting at Lancaster Town Hall that:

Since the introduction of this government’s Health and Social Care Act, the number of NHS contracts awarded to non-NHS providers has more than trebled. This leaves the future of our NHS in the hands of companies whose main objective is making profit for shareholders, rather than the provision of quality healthcare which is free at the point of use.”

Cuts and the government’s Health and Social Care Act have prioritised privatisation over service quality, putting NHS pharmacies at even more at risk. Since the Act came in to force, 70 per cent of health services put out to tender have gone to the private sector.

According to the union Unite, at least 31 NHS trusts have already chosen to use private companies to run outpatient pharmacy services and a further 18 are out to tender.  Lloyds Pharmacy has been the biggest beneficiary of the tax loophole, having secured around 18 contracts to run hospital pharmacy services. Boots have won 5, Sainsbury’s 3 and the Co-op 5. Boots has further reduced its tax bill by moving its 'base' to Switzerland.

The VAT loophole means that tax exempt private corporations have an overwhelming competitive advantage when tendering, while taxpayer-owned public NHS services must pay tax again, increasing their costs and making it impossible for them to offer competing bids. It also means £millions of taxes lost to the public exchequer as more and more public contracts go to tax-exempt and tax-avoiding private corporations.

Corporate pressure is being exerted to maximise the number of NHS contracts being put out to tender and awarded before the loophole is closed - after which these contracts will become more expensive than the current services. Although Whitehall has managed to rush through legislation favouring corporations at the expense of the public, such as the Infrastructure Bill, within a matter of weeks, it is dragging its feet sorting out a tax anomaly that distorts the market in breach of EU rules and does real harm to the public. Hospitals are forced to accept the tender that is the cheapest on the day, regardless of how much the costs are likely to be adjusted upwards post-legislation.

Conservative MPs Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) and David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) were both invited to the meeting at Lancaster Town Hall but failed to attend.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Accident on M6 - overnight lane closure

On the M6 southbound between junctions J35 (Carnforth) and J34 (Lancaster North), there are currently delays of 1 hour caused by congestion due to carriageway resurfacing work closing the road between junctions J34 and J33 following an earlier multi-vehicle accident. The road is expected to re-open from 6am on Friday 25 July 2014.

There are also tailbacks and delays on the M6 northbound between J33 and J34.  Northbound traffic is expected to ease by 7.30pm tonight.

These M6 issues have created serious congestion through Lancaster.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 23rd to 31st July by Peter Clarke

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

We have four new releases during the coming week, animation with The House of Magic (U) and action/adventure with Hercules (12A), The Purge: Anarchy (15) and Guardians of the Galaxy (12A).

The films Tammy and Jersey Boys are no longer being screened. Also it seems likely that we are soon to loose 22 Jump Street and The Fault in our Stars. However to compensate this week provides another chance to catch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Rio 2 and Postman Pat: The Movie.

This is a poor period for high culture. However of interest is the Dukes screening of Richard Linklater epic Boyhood. This is a film that took twelve years to make as it follows the development of a man from infancy to adulthood.


22 Jump Street
Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, Channing Tatum, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube
The movie finds Police officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) working undercover at a local college to investigate supply of an illegal drug. Actually the movie is a deliberate re-hash of the earlier '21 Jump Street', but this still makes it a zany comedy with humour ranging from slapstick thought parody to the surreal. Well rated and very enjoyable.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
This movie is already proving a success at the US box office and has the makings of a summer blockbuster. The film is set a decade after 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'. Much of humanity has been wiped out following an outbreak of an artificial virus which killed humans yet increased the intelligence of apes. Human and ape live in a state of fragile peace and the film explores the conflict that arises when the humans try to start a hydroelectric dam that is located in the apes territory. The first part of the movie builds the characters of both humans and apes and later there are very impressive special effects as hostilities commence between the two sides. Both apes and humans have understandable motives and thus the film is much more than a simple war between right and wrong. An excellent movie.

Earth to Echo
Director: Dave Green
Certificate: PG
Cast includes: Teo Halm, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt, Reese C. Hartwig, Jason Gray-Stanford
A construction project is destroying a neighbourhood when a group of friends start to receive strange signals on their phones. They search for the origin of the signals and discover an alien who has become trapped on earth. The film tells the story of the youngsters as they battle the government and help the alien return to his home. It is hard not to compare this film with 'E.T.' However the movie is really about the youthful friendships rather than an extra-terrestrial. A entertaining if rather average family film.

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.

Director: Robert Stromberg
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Angelina Jolie, Miranda Richardson, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
In part a re-telling of the tale of sleeping beauty but from the point of view of the villain of the story, Maleficent (Jolie). Maleficent was driven to evil following an act of betrayal which cost her the ability to fly. She battles to save her shadowy forest kingdom and plots revenge by placing a curse on the infant Aurora (Fanning), daughter to the king. Aurora herself becomes caught in the conflict between forest and human kingdoms. This is a rather dark fantasy for a Disney film, but a great tale with powerful characters and impressive special effect.

Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
Director: Ben Kellett
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Brendan O'Carroll
Agnes Brown (O'Carroll) is a market trader who finds her livelihood under threat from a property developer. Supported by her family she embarks on a crusade to save her stall. This is a movie adaption of the well known and much loved BBC comedy and the film was extremely successful in its opening weekend. This is a very capable comedy that captures the spirit of the TV series.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Director: Marc Webb
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Paul Giamatti, Jamie Foxx
Garfield plays the role of Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man. He must defeat Max Dillon (Foxx) who becomes transformed into the super-villain Electro, in order to save New York. The strength of the Spider man franchise lies in the tribulations of his juggling his role as super-hero with the more mundane aspects of is life and his relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Stone). With jokes, special effects and love interest this is a worthy sequel in the Spider-Man series.

The Fault in our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe
A romance between Hazel (Woodley) and Gus (Elgort), teenagers who have just months to live when they meet at a cancer support group. The movie is based on the best selling novel by John Green and it is predominantly aimed at a young adult audience. With an excellent dialogue the film is a very moving love story that could easily leave you in tears.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Friends of City Museum race to buy rare medal for Lancaster

The Friends of Lancaster City Museum are supporting Lancaster City Museum's bid at auction on Thursday 24th July for the rare Silver Edward Medal Awarded to Police Sergeant Thomas Coppard.

Only 25 Silver Edward Medals (Industry) have ever been awarded (between 1907 and 1949) so it is a medal rarer than the Victoria Cross - and four of the silver medals were awarded to men on that single night at White Lund.

The sale at Spink in London is on Thursday, so there is not much time, and the estimate for £1400 to £1800 for the medal appears very low - other similar medals have sold for four times this amount.

The Friends Committee have pledged money towards the bid, and some money is being used from the City Museum's Acquisition budget - but the more money donated or pledged, the better.

Sergeant Thomas Coppard was on duty at the White Lund Munitions work on the night of the terrible explosion in October 1917 which killed ten people, shattered windows in Morecambe and Lancaster and had shrapnel fly as far away as Scotforth and Quernmore.

The Lancaster Guardian reported at the time:
On the evening of October 1, 1917, an explosion at the National Filling Factory on White Lund was so strong its force was felt as far away as Burnley. Ten people were killed during the night the majority of whom were firemen.

Most of the factory workers were in the canteen on their supper break when the alarm was raised around 10.30pm which probably saved many other lives though in the rush to escape the site, some were injured. The biggest explosion occurred around 3am.

The works fire brigade was unable to contain the fire which spread quickly and there were some staff who put their own lives on the line to save further casualties. Among them was Thomas Kew who shunted 49 ammunition trucks holding 250,000 live shells out of the danger zone to prevent further explosions.

Shells which had been filled at the factory began to explode with the intense heat. In Morecambe, shells were seen flying overhead into the bay while in Lancaster shop windows were blown in and shrapnel travelled as far as Scotforth and Quernmore....The factory was so wrecked by the explosion that it was out of commission for the rest of the war.

The cause of the disaster was never found though some suspected spy action or a Zeppelin air raid.

The National Filling Factory was one of two new factories which had been opened in the area by the Ministry of Munition by the middle of 1916. The National Projectile Factory in Caton Road was mainly turning and filling shell cases delivered from Barrow.

Such was the pride in these factories and the work they were doing for the war effort that both were visited by King George and Queen Mary in May, 1917 when they were presented with a silver plated shell as a memento.

The real shells were transported from Caton Road to White Lund where they were filled with explosives. This factory had taken seven months to develop, covered 400 acres and included 150 buildings.

More than 8,000 people worked in these factories at their peak and three quarters of them were women."

• Make your pledge by email to the Friends of Lancaster City Musuem at

• Full details of the Appeal can be found at: