Friday, 27 February 2015

Labour candidate promises additional free childcare

Parents at Appletree Children's Centre with
Alison McGovern MP and Cat Smith
Cat Smith, Labour's candidate for parliament in Lancaster, has been campaigning across the city on childcare, joined by Labour MPs visiting the city.

She was joined by Labour's shadow children's minister, Alison McGovern MP, at Appletree Children's Centre on Milking Style Lane on 12th February, where they met parents and staff. On 25th February she was joined by Lisa Nandy MP where they spoke to parents studying and working at Lancaster University.

Cat Smith, Labour's candidate for parliament in Lancaster, said,

"Meeting parents at Appletree Children's Centre and at Lancaster University I heard some of the daily struggles they face with childcare. I was pleased to be able to share with them Labour's commitment to increase to 25 hours a week the free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds with working parents and delivering at least 50,000 more childcare places by doubling the number available at Sure Start centres. For those with school-age children they were supportive of Labour's guarantee of access to before and after school care from 8am - 6pm through every primary school."

Alison McGovern MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, said:

“It was great to see the excellent facilities and passionate staff at Appletree Children's Centre in Lancaster. By contrast, David Cameron is badly letting down working families. Since 2010 the failing Tory plan has seen the costs of childcare soar. On top of this, there are over 40,000 fewer childcare places and wages are down £1,600 a year on average."

Lisa Nandy MP, Labour's Shadow Minister for Civil Society, said:

“Meeting the students and staff at Lancaster University balancing studies and work with childcare really brings it home that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. Labour's plan offers a better future for families struggling against the soaring cost and lack of availability of childcare."

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Morecambe Bay Credit Union seeks volunteers. AGM tonight

Morecambe Bay Credit Union (MBCU) ( will be holding its Annual General Meeting at 7.30 pm tonight, Thursday 26 February, at Poulton Children's Centre, Clark St, Morecambe, LA4 5HR.

MBCU is also calling for volunteers t
o help with various aspects of running and supporting the organisation. A Credit Union is an alternative way to save and borrow. It is an industrial and prudential savings and loans co-operative, owned and run by its members. It works by members saving together regularly; this creates a pool of money from which low cost loans can be made. 

It also runs a Junior Savers Scheme, which is a great way for young people to learn how to manage their finances directly and a good preparation for adult responsibilities.

It is based in the local community, supported and run by local people.  To become a member you only need £5 in savings. MBCU is based at 75 Queen Street, Morecambe LA4 5EN. The current opening hours are 11am to 1pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

How much time and energy volunteers can offer varies depending on their circumstances and the organisation is flexible. However some posts are sensitive and training and support is given. For these a suitable volunteer would be able to appreciate the need for some commitment in return. But there are lots of other ways too in which people can help out this valuable community service. Volunteer posts include: 

  • Publicity - The Union needs help with staffing publicity stalls, leafleting, taking posters, etc. round shops and organisations and compiling the newsletter. 
  • Organising Events - If you enjoy planning and making things happen, then this is for you.
  • General Administration - Regular office duties including computer work - collating books, mail-outs, mapping membership, analysing different aspects of the business, etc. 
  • Financial Clerk in the Office, Handling money and dealing with members queries.
  • Collectors at Collection Points - Each collection point runs for an hour or one and a half hours per week and needs a team of three people to act as collectors. 
  • Board and Committee roles - are open to all members of the MBCU. The board is responsible for making decisions about the policies and direction of the Credit Union. A board member usually gives a commitment of an average of three days a month.

MBCU Volunteers will be able learn new skills and keep the relevant skills and experience they bring bang up to date. It's a valuable way to develop new interests, meet new people and work with a team, with a strong element of involvement in the community. It's very rewarding work and there's a lot of fun to be had in being part of a good team. 

If you are interested in finding out more then MBCU would love to hear from you. You can contact them by emailing or phone them on: 01524 411240

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

County Councillors call for government to release DEFRA fracking report

Today Lancashire County Council have rejected a planning application by Cuadrilla for a further prospective fracking site at Singleton. The ruling is separate to the Cuadrilla applications for two fracking sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood which the council deferred last month following legal advice, pending additional public consultation.

Gina Dowding, Green County Councillor for Lancaster Central, will tomorrow, Thursday 26 February at Full Council (see agenda) ask the County Council to demand that the Government releases more information about  the effects of Shale Gas extraction on rural economies - information which they are keeping under wraps.

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, Labour's cabinet member has submitted a very similar motion. You can read both below.

In July  last year the Government's Department for Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a report: Shale Gas, rural economy impacts,  but the version they released to the public is littered with the words 'redacted' and huge chunks of information have been removed. It seems likely that the reason for this is that it would provide evidence contradicting Prime Minister David Cameron's commitment to go 'all out' for fracking. You can download the report here.

An example from the report

Gina said

"We can only assume that the Government is hiding from us the negative effects that  Shale Gas will have on the economy in Lancashire. If they have nothing to hide they could have just published the report whole.

"I think that it is arrogant of central government to hide information from local people. It is like a judge hiding evidence from the jury - while telling them what decision to come to. It is absolutely clear that this government intends to force shale gas on Lancashire -regardless of the social and environmental costs.

" I think this call is very likely to get cross party support at County. We  hope that Government will listen to local representatives. "

The motions to be submitted are as follows:

  1. By County Councillor Gina Dowding:
    Lancashire County Council calls on the Government to release the Defra report Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts.

    This heavily redacted version of the report was released last year. The full report needs to be released in order that the public has full information and that Councillors can make fully informed decision about Cuadrilla’s applications.

  2. By County Councillor Marcus Johnstone:
    Lancashire County Council calls on the Government to release a full version of the report 'Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts' which was published by Defra in July 2014.

    The report was heavily redacted when published and to date the Government has not been willing to release the full document. The Council however recognises that there is community concern regarding regulatory regimes and the availability of information relating to shale gas development.

    In the interests of transparency the Council calls on the Government to release the report in full. 

Local Cinema Round-Up for 25th February to 5th March 2015 by

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.

There is something of a churn among the films on display in our region during this period.

We have three new releases, namely an erotic drama with The Boy Next Door (15); a comedy sequel with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG) and comedy drama in Focus (15).

Films that have disappeared from the cinema this week include American Sniper; Into the Woods; Paddington; Taken 3 and the docu-drama Wild. Also it appears likely that the following films will soon cease to be screened: The Penguins of Madagascar; Peppa Pig; The Imitation Game and the award winning Birdman. We do however see the return of Night of the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Ex Machina.

The adult drama Fifty Shades of Grey is still one of the major events. This is just the first of a number erotic dramas making it to the big screen, soon to be joined by The Boy Next Door released on Friday and The Duke of Burgundy which is due to be screened later in March.

We have a dearth of horror movies at the moment. However Science fiction is currently well represented with Project Almanac and Jupiter Ascending. Also there is a good selection of drama, including a one night double bill of Fast and Furious 6 and 7, as well as the entertaining Kingsman: The Secret Service and the much acclaimed Selma.

The Lancaster 'Campus in the City' initiative continues, bringing predominantly European cinema to the region. Of special note is the screening of Hannah Arendt, a biopic of the influential German-Jewish philosopher.


Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Lindsay Duncan, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifiankis, Emma Stone.
Subtitled 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance' this is the story of washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), once famous for playing a movie superhero Birdman. However once he left the franchise, his career never recovered. Thus he is making a last ditch attempt to revive his fortunes by directing and acting in a play at the St James theatre on Broadway. The play is not going well and Riggan is plagued by his inner voice (manifest as the character Birdman), by quarrels with his actors and arguments with his family. The film appears to be shot as a single, cut free. sequence and it contains surreal, 'over the top' interludes. This is a dark comedy, a flight of fancy, about a self absorbed man. The acting is superb (especially Keaton) and the whole is a quirky must see movie that could be the film of 2015. If you can only see one movie, this is the one.

Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Oscar Issac, Alicia Vikander, Corey Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson.
Caleb (Gleeson) is a twenty-four year old programmer working at the world's largest Internet Company. He wins a competition and so gets to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Issac), the CEO of the company. Nathan unveils his work, a female android Ava (Vikander), and explains to Caleb that his role is to perform a Turing test on her to explore if her thinking and behavior is indistinguishable from that of a human. As Caleb gets to spend time with Ava, she starts to become dominant in their relationship, trying to recruit Caleb for her own ends. The film is reminiscent of Frankenstein, with Nathan increasingly taking the role of mad scientist who does not have the emotional empathy to support his creation. The movie is excellently shot with impressive special effects that do not get in the way of the story. A superb, thought provoking science fiction drama that explores the interaction between man and machine.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson
This is a much hyped film with a record for ticket pre-sales. It is based on the best selling 2011 novel by E. L. James. Anastasia Steel (Johnson) is a student who interviews the publicity shy billionaire Christian Grey (Dornan) as a college assignment. There is an immediate sexual chemistry between the two and they embark on an affair. However Grey has a desire to control everything in his life and his relationships have a strong sado-masochistic element. Hence he requires Anastasia to sign a contract if she wants the relationship to continue that will allow Grey to subjugate her. The film is an accurate portrayal of the book, though it omits the more sordid sex scenes. Essentially the film is soft porn for a female audience.

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Sophie Cookson, Taron Egerton.
A spoof spy adventure based on the comic book series by Dave Gibbons and Mark Miller. Kingsman is an international covert spying agency and they recruit members from street wise misfits. A chavvy gang member Egysy (Egerton) is recruited by the ultra suave agent Harry Hart (Firth). To be accepted Egysy must become both refined and also pass a grueling 'boot camp' where he will learn how to be an agent. In the meantime the eccentric billionaire Valentine (Jackson) is planning to distribution free SIM cards, an act that will trigger the eradication of most of mankind. This is a very 'tongue in cheek' movie, in equal measures a violent action adventure and a comedy. There are outrageous gadgets and wonderful set pieces, with the movie being part James Bond and part every other spy movie you have ever seen. Irreverent and unmissable.

Director: Ava DuVernay
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson
A slice of American History. The film follows Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) and the events that led up to the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery which preceded President Johnson's (Wilkinson) signing the voting Act of 1965 giving equal voting rights to Afro-American citizens. Not only does this film show the build up to the march, it also portrays something of the humour and character of Martin Luther King and the strain that his work imposed on his marriage to Coretta (Ejogo) and on his friends. It covers much of the political backdrop to the civil rights movement and contains images of violence and racial slurs that were endured by the marchers in their quest for equal voting rights.

The Boy Next Door
Director: Rob Cohen
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson.
Claire Peterson (Lopez) is a lonely English teacher. She is a single parent looking after her teenage son Kevin (Nelson) following separation from her unfaithful husband. A man half her age, Noah (Guzman), moves into the house across the street. Initially he helps Claire with chores, but their closeness results in a night of passion. Claire realizes this was a mistake and abruptly finishes the relationship. Noah however shows his unstable side. He becomes her stalker and threatens her, his obsession becoming ever stronger till there is a final culmination at the end of the film. The movie however has attracted rather poor reviews as both the plot and the dialogue are a little 'clunky'. Also Guzman proves to be more convincing as a handsome hulk than a threatening obsessive. However this is an acceptable entry into the category an erotic drama.

The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Keira Knightley
A portrayal of the life of computer genius Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) who masterminded the cracking of the German Enigma code in the second world war and continued to develop computer theory at Manchester University. The film opens in 1951 with a robbery taking place in Turing's house. Thence the film explores Turing's life by flashbacks to his schooling and his life in Bletchley Park. The acting in the film is excellent with Cumberbatch giving a particularly good performance. However the film rather backs away from Turing's homosexuality and his subsequent suicide after his persecution by the British Government.

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
A biopic of the early years of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawkins, based on the memoir 'Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen Hawkins' by Jane Hawkins. At Cambridge, Stephen Hawkins was an active young man who fell in love with literature student Jane Wilde. However, aged 21, Hawkins had an accidental fall which led to his being diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live. The film shows the marriage of Stephen and Jane and how she supported him and their children during the years of their marriage (they divorced in 1995). This is a beautiful film likely to leave the audience in tears. The acting is excellent especially Redmayne's portrayal of Hawkins and the movie shows the lighter side of Hawkin's character, his humour and his passion.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Parliamentary candidates fail to respond to pensioners' group letter

Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group (LDPCG) have written to prospective Parliamentary candidates from the Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem, Green and TUSC parties in the Morecambe and Lunesdale Constituency and in the Lancaster and Fleetwood Constituency calling on them to promote the National Pensioners' Manifesto 2015.

They sent out their letters by email on 12 February (with a copy of the Manifesto attached) but, to date, aside from auto-responses not one single candidate has replied to it.

The letter sent by LDPCG to 9 parliamentary candidates

The Pensioner's Manifesto calls on parliamentary candidates in the May 2015 general election to support these policies:
  • A basic state pension for all elderly people, set above the poverty level of £175 a week
  • Increases in pensions to be linked to the best of RPI, CPI, earnings or 2.5%
  • Universal pensioner benefits (bus pass, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over-75s and free prescriptions) to be maintained without means-testing
  • A National Health and Care Service which is free at the point of use and funded through taxation
  • A legally binding Dignity Code to improve the quality and standards of care for older people
You can view and download the manifesto in full (it's only one page) at the National Pensioners' Convention website at

There are currently 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK (and they are the age-group most likely to use their vote). According to the Office for National Statistics this figure is expected to pass 16 million by 2032. As things stand it will continue to rise through 2050.
The number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30 (these people are now just in their 30s+).

Yesterday Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron promised that universal pensioners benefits would remain free from means-testing as long as he remains Prime Minister. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they would remove some benefits from better-off pensioners.

However austerity measures introduced by David Cameron's government have led to significant cuts to care services for the elderly in Lancashire over recent years with a further 7% reduction announced last month (see report). Many have entirely lost their home care services. Increased charges have led to a sharp reduction in the numbers of vulnerable elderly people attending County Council day-care centres. Other respite care support for carers has also been reduced. Changes to NHS services have resulted in centralisation of patient services such as Dementia, moving them out of the area. Transport has become a core problem for the most vulnerable elderly and the friends and relatives (who are themselves usually elderly too) who support them. Cases of abuse and neglect in care homes caught between the demands of profit and costs are also on the rise.

Just under one million older people live in fuel poverty. The UK toll of excess deaths of elderly people due to cold weather is rising. For this winter it is expected to top 35,000, with cold-related illness putting increasing pressure on NHS services.  Inadequate heating levels at home can also result in stiffness, joint pain and impaired mobility, reducing coping capability and increasing the likelihood of falls.

A recent campaign by Lancaster City Council and the County Council's Welfare Rights Team found that almost half the over-75s they contacted struggled with the benefits system and were under-claiming their actual entitlement, to the average tune of £55 each a week. If you aren't up to speed on the internet, which can be a tough call for anyone with elderly eyes and hands and other age-related conditions, it can become impossible to keep abreast of changes to one's welfare entitlements (never mind fuel tariffs) as one's situation and needs change over time. Cuts to services also mean that the people who used to check and give advice, such as home care services, day care and social workers are less available to do so.

To contact the Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group e-mail:

Monday, 23 February 2015

Photography competition: Lancaster's hidden treasures

Local photography enthusiasts who love Lancaster will know that there are many great aspects to the city that maybe aren't photographed as often as others; architectural mysteries or hidden views from unique vantage points.

Independent Lancaster are looking for all of the possibly unseen or unappreciated treasures of Lancaster in their photo competition on facebook. The winner will be chosen by popular vote and their prize will be the joys of appreciation and 2 tickets to the Lancaster Comedy Club at the Borough, which features well-known comedians from throughout the UK. The runner-up will receive a £10 gift voucher from Studio Arts - the place in Lancaster to get expert advice on art materials for your creative projects.

If you've never entered a photographic competition before, this is a great way to begin.
The competition is open now until 11.59pm on Monday 9 March. Local artist and graphic designer Jack Knight of Independent Lancaster, who is organising the competition, would like you to submit a photo that captures something special about Lancaster that people may not have noticed before.

Your photos can receive votes until the contest closes. All you have to do is visit the 'Photo Contest' section of the Independent Lancaster Facebook Page (click here) and upload your image.

NB The image shown above was taken by a close acquaintance of this blogger. I selected it to illustrate this article because I could get permission immediately, so it was simply the handiest. There are more, fascinating photos at the competition site, unlocking interesting aspects of our city that you may not have previously noticed, and they are well worth a visit, whether you choose to enter or vote, or not.