Saturday, 7 March 2015

Tory Councillor suggests funding cuts for Dukes, Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre

Councillor Peter Williamson: "Are we
entertainment or sports promoters?"
Photo: Lancaster City Council
As elections loom, local Tories seem to have set out their stall early in terms of how they view the future of publicly-funded services in Lancaster and Morecambe.

During a debate to set the latest Council budget, should the Tories win the Council in May, that vision may well include an end to The Dukes, The Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre - at least, in their current form.

As we reported earlier this week (see news story), while the Council's books have been balanced for the next financial year without any reductions to services, the council still faces having to find savings of nearly £3.5 million by 2018. This is in addition to cuts the council has already seen over the last five years, during which the amount available to spend on services has reduced by more than £7million.

The Lancaster Guardian reports Tory councillor Peter Williamson, leader of the Conservatives, who also sits on the Council's Audit Committee, told the meeting his party would not support the 2015/16 budget and was backed by Roger Dennison, leader of the Morecambe Bay Independents, and most of the other independent councillors.

In remarks at the meeting the councillor for the Upper Lune Valley appeared to suggest The Dukes, The Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre should no longer be publicly funded if it was a choice between them and front line services such as street cleaning and environmental health.

“We have two failing theatres costing us £356,000 a year, we have a failing sports centre losing £1.2m a year. Are we entertainment or sports promoters?”

Councillor Roger Mace: Council tax
increase "not value for money"
His concerns were backed by Tory colleague Roger Mace, who argued the 1.99% increase was not value for money for tax payers.

"We are using £1m from balances to fund our budget," he noted. "I do not understand the reasons for this.”

The Dukes will receive a £150,700 grant in 2015/16, but is also backed by other organisations including the Arts Council who awarded the film and theatre hub, much praised for its annual Open Air theatre in Williamson Park, £267,347 in 2014-15.

The Platform, which is operated by Lancaster City Council in the former Morecambe railway station, is forecast to run at a loss of £214,300 in 2015/16, while Salt Ayre Sports Centre is estimated to run at a loss of £1.273m in 2015/16.

Labour and Green Party councillors, who form the coalition cabinet on Lancaster City Council, all voted in favour so the budget was passed 29 votes to 17.

The Tories appear to be taking their cue on council tax from other Tory councils, including nearby Wyre, which represents Garstang, which recently froze for the fifth year running. Often, this is achieved by selling off council-owned properties.

While Wyre's council tax freeze was achieved without any cuts to frontline services, the Council has decided to close and sell of Garstang's community centre, which it decided was an "under performing asset" back in 2012. Although Garstang Town Council is still battling the decision, the Courier reported last month that developers interested in buying Garstang’s Business and Community Centre had submitted bids for the property.

(A former vicarage garden is now being tipped as the likely location for a new Community Hub for Garstang).

Councillor Jon Barry: private partner for
Salt Ayre Sports Centre being sought
to trim costs
At the budget meeting, Green Councillor Jon Barry hit back at suggestions Salt Ayre Sports Centre should no longer be funded, noting the Council was seeking a private partner was being sought to run it.

“I’m not saying don’t fund The Dukes or close The Platform or Salt Ayre," Councillor Williamson told the Lancaster Guardian after the meeting. "All I’m saying is that if front line services are under threat, why are we doing what we’re doing?

"I’d cut them before I started cutting street cleaning, dustbin collections and environmental health.”

Elections 2015: Full details on the Lancaster City Council web site

Friday, 6 March 2015

Cumbria Uni celebrates 50 years with 'scrapbook' exhibition

1983 - student bedroom at S. Martin's College (aka Smarties)
now the University of Cumbria's Lancaster campus

As part of the University of Cumbria 50th anniversary celebrations (, staff from the UC will be taking up residence at the Lancaster University-hosted 'Campus in the City' shop on Cheapside on Thursday 19 March from 10am - 4pm.

On display on the day will be a range of photographs and archive materials, from the opening of St Martin's College in 1964 right through to the present day. Many photographs and other fascinating documents from the past five decades have been submitted from former students and staff members, including the running order for the official opening event with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, letters from the first principal Hugh Pollard, and the first ever college prospectus. Also on display will be the film ‘30 Years on the Hill’ which contains footage of the campus from 60s-90s, including the construction of some of the buildings which make up the campus today.

The event will run between 10am and 4pm on 19 March, and all are welcome to come along. Past students are encouraged to bring along their own photos, memorabilia and memories of student life in Lancaster, to be added to an ever-growing collection on the university's 'Digital Scrapbook', which can also be viewed on the day.

Karen Jones, who leads on development and alumni relations for the university, explains: "Our graduates are an invaluable asset to the university, as stories of their success, both professionally and in life in general, are a great source of inspiration to our prospective and current students."

A preview of some of the memories and images they have already collected are available to view at Can you spot yourself in any of the photos?

An invitation to experience Sensory Art - blindfolded

Local Sensory Art Makers present the art exhibition “Sense and Memory” opening on Saturday 14 March from 1 - 3.30pm until Friday 20 March at Morecambe Library.

The exhibition is a collection of artworks produced by 16 visually impaired members of Galloway’s Society for the Blind.  These artworks will form a truly unique exhibition exploring the themes of ‘sense and memory’.

Participants have attended workshops, coordinated by Fine Art students at Lancaster University which have been an opportunity for them to work with malleable materials such as clay and mixed media. It is an invitation to consider sight at a period where we often take it for granted, certain it may change our perceptions of what a sensory art exhibition could or should be. Visitors can experience the collection of works with a visual impairment first hand as sight is temporarily removed with the use of blindfolds.

The general public are invited to gain an understanding of what it is like to experience an art exhibition once sight is removed. This is a free event but all proceeds and donations will go directly to Galloway’s Society of the Blind as they are currently in the process of upgrading their centre to provide better facilities for their members.

Nia Coleman, Vision Services Coordinator at Galloway’s has said on the exhibition: “Their fantastic pieces of work will be part of an excellent Art Exhibition exploring ‘sense and memory’. This is an open exhibition for the general public so please tell your family and friends!"

Entry to Morecambe Library is free. The library is closed on Sundays.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Aldcliffe Road bridge wall to be repaired by end of March?

Broken wall at Aldcliffe Bridge
Photo taken 30 November 2015

Lancashire County Council and Virtual Lancaster have this week received assurances from the developers at Aldcliffe Yard that the repairs to the Canal Bridge wall will be completed and the temporary traffic lights removed by 27 March - or in 6 weeks (respectively).

Temporary traffic lights were put in place on Aldcliffe Road, at its junction with Carr House Lane, last November after the collapse of the roadside wall by Aldcliffe Bridge. This was an accidental consequence of work undertaken by the construction company building the 'Aldcliffe Yard' residential development on the far bank of the canal. The road has been reduced to a single, narrow lane, controlled by the temporary lights.

Damaged drain Aldcliffe Road
Photo taken and added on 6 March 2015
Over the following months residents have not seen any evidence of any repair work being undertaken on the wall, although it has continued on the main construction site. A drain  on the fish and chip shop side of the controlled lane has begun to sink as, the road being reduced to a single narrow lane, heavy vehicles going both ways cannot avoid it.

The traffic lights are on a junction, but only control part of it, leaving a precarious arrangement for pedestrians and for traffic entering and leaving Carr House Lane.  Aldcliffe Residents Association spoke to the site manager in early February after a member saw a cyclist forced off the road.

Chris Norman reported in their blog that 'The initial quote for making the walls, both against the road and the Aldcliffe Triangle, safe was seen as too expensive by the developer. Four further schemes have also been seen as too expensive for this “unexpected” cost."

This was unfortunate indeed. The bridge, No 98 on the Lancaster Canal, is the sole remaining unaltered drovers' bridge between Preston and Tewitfield and residents wish it to retain its original appearance and charm.

On 19 February Virtual Lancaster emailed Martin Taylor, of Construction Partnership UK to ask what plans were in place (if any) for a repair and when it would be completed. We received an autoresponse but no reply.

On 2 March Virtual Lancaster then emailed Richard Thomas, Development Director at bloc group, who are the Canal and River Trust's development partner for this new housing project. He replied to us on the following day, saying

"We have been agreeing the best detail for rebuilding this wall with all key stakeholders given the bridge is such an important historic asset. 

"We are pleased to confirm that the wall is now being replaced as was. Final detailed design is due from our Engineer this week. We will then instruct our contractor CPUK to complete the works to this detail.

"The works will take up to 4 weeks to complete. Therefore we expect this wall to be rebuilt as was within 6 weeks and the traffic lights then removed."

On the same day VL was pleased to be informed by local resident and City Cllr Dave Brookes that County Cllr Gina Dowding had been notified by Lancashire Highway Services that "We have had an update from the developer, who anticipates that the work will be completed, and traffic lights removed by Friday 27th March."

CPUK are building 14 'luxury homes' in a £2m development at Aldcliffe Yard. This project is expected to take 52 weeks. We sincerely hope that they have more luck with this venture than they have had in repairing this short section of wall.

Labour and Lib Dem Candidates respond to pensioners' petition

Since our previous article reported that not one single parliamentary candidate had bothered to respond to a request from Lancaster and District Pensioners' Campaign (LDPCG) that they commit to supporting the Pensioners' Manifesto (see previous report for more about this), the group has now received two replies, from Lancaster & Fleetwood Candidates Cat Smith (Labour) and Robin Long (Lib Dem).

They have given their views on the Manifesto's core demands, and here they are, in the order in which they were received.

Cat Smith, Labour candidate

Cat Smith
Dear Eric Jones and the Lancaster District Pensioners Campaign,

Thank you for writing to me and alerting me to your petition, I did actually go along to the session you had in Lancaster city centre and met with some members of your group there. It was very cold and I think you did admirably to collect so many signatures.

With regards to your petition;

A basic state pension for all, set above the poverty level of £175 a week
I am sorry I cannot commit a future Labour government to fully meeting this demand; all of our policies are fully costed going into the election, it is important we only promise what we can deliver. The full new State Pension for those reaching state pension age from next year will be no less than £148.40 per week. The actual amount will be set in autumn 2015.

Increases in pensions to be linked to the best of RPI, CPI, earnings or 2.5%
Labour is absolutely committed to the triple-lock on pensions throughout the next parliament, inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%.

Universal pensioner benefits (bus pass, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over75s and free prescriptions) to be maintained without means-testing
Labour has no plans to change current arrangements for bus passes, free TV Licenses for the over-75s or free prescriptions.  The Winter Fuel Allowance will go for those pensioners who are higher rate tax payers earning over £41,866 p.a. - about 5% of all pensioners, but there would be no complex means test as it would be linked to HMRC records.

A National Health and Care Service which is free at the point of use and funded through taxation
Yes, Labour has committed to bringing together health, social care and mental health in order to provide ‘whole person care’, 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
I think that sounds like a good idea, I’d be interested in knowing more as that develops.

There are other issues which you don’t mention in the manifesto which I also think are important and I will work towards if I was elected as your MP. I would work to help less wealthy pensioners (millions of whom do not claim their entitlements) by increasing awareness of pensioner entitlements and campaign to make access to benefits such as pension credit and council tax assistance simpler.

I hope you find my response honest and realistic about what I hope to achieve as your MP.

Regards,  Cat Smith
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood


Robin Long, Liberal Democrat candidate

Robin Long
Dear Eric Jones and the LDPCG,

Thank you very much for your email. Sorry that I have taken a while to reply, but I have been away and I wanted to to take the time to research as much of this as I could instead of providing you with a generic response.

Firstly I wish to reply to the main points highlighted in your manifesto:

A basic state pension for all, set above the poverty level of £175 a week.
I think all pensioners should be provided with a basic state pension that covers their living costs. The poverty level is set at 60% of the median income of the UK. This means that it is more a measure of the difference in incomes between the lowest and the highest earners, rather than a measure of what people need to survive. Instead of using and arbitrary level, I will be fighting for a living wage to be introduced instead of a minimum wage - I believe this could and should be expanded to include a living pensions so that pensioners receive a basic income that allows them to live - not just to survive at the poverty line.

Increases in pensions to be linked to the best of RPI, CPI, earnings or 2.5%.
I understand why pensions should increase by: an estimate on the price increase of certain goods (RPI or CPI) or average earning. I cannot find the rational behind the 2.5%, I assume the intention is to increase pensions to a reasonable level when earning and CPI are low - this means that once pensions reach that level there would be no further need for it. I assume the key point in your statement is the triple-lock (that pensions rise by the higher of CPI, earnings or 2.5%) using RPI instead of CPI. The Vice-President of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS)  stated: "There are good arguments for the CPI as a macroeconomic indicator (particularly once some indicator of owner occupier costs has been included) but, as you know, we do not feel that it currently serves the purpose of being a sufficiently good measure of price inflation as experienced by households to be used in uprating pensions and benefits"[download RSS letter here]. I think any government needs to work with the RSS and Office of National Statistics to find a method of indexing that accurately reflects the price increases that affect pensions, especially as there are arguments that neither CPI nor RPI do this.

Universal pensioner benefits (bus pass, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over75s and free prescriptions) to be maintained without means-testing.
I want to see the NHS returned to being free at the point of use, and this includes free prescriptions for everyone that needs them.  I also see that bus passes are an extension of this - as people get older it is harder to get around, and most cannot or do not feel safe driving themselves, so a free bus pass makes perfect sense.  The winter fuel allowance exists to ensure that pensioners can afford to heat their homes - whether this should be a universal benefit depends on whether it is necessary as an effect of old age to increase heating to higher levels, or whether some pensioners incomes are so low that they need extra help with this particularly high cost - I am not sure on the answer to this but will endeavour to find it.  I do not see the need to provide free TV licence to the wealthiest, and as such I cannot support maintaining it as universal benefit.

A few of the points I have discussed above, do not just affect pensioners - after all, the affects of aging and illness do not just kick in once you start drawing your pension. I think we need to look at reforming benefits further. The NHS was established so that the state provided health care free at the point of use and that no-one was forced into poverty by things they cannot avoid such as illness or injury. In my opinion it is time we expanded this definition to include old age.

A National Health and Care Service which is free at the point of use and funded through taxation.
Yes,  agreed. I will always fight for this.

A legally binding Dignity Code to improve the quality and standards of care for older people.
I think this makes perfect sense, and should be expanded to include the standards of care for all people.

Secondly, I think it is great that you have managed to get so many signatures in such a short time; however it is not clear from the number of signatures that a majority of those affected (I am using your supplied estimate of 40,000) are in favour of your manifesto,so I cannot agree with the line in your letter that states: "We respectfully ask you to agree to the request from your potential constituents to adopt and endorse the Manifesto and pledge to promote its demands.". If elected as MP, my job is to represent the view and needs of my constituents. As such if the number of signatures increases to show that a majority support this, then I will do so.

My closing comment is that I am a scientist. I analyse facts, draw conclusions and seek expert help where needed.  I am not an expert in pensions or health and welfare but have provided you with the best information I can. If you wish to discuss anything further, or point out where I have made mistakes, please do.

I look forward to your reply,

Robin Long,
Liberal Democrat Candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

Phone app to help young people to take control of their relationships

Young people who are being controlled or manipulated by their partner can get advice and support from a new smartphone app, stiritapp.

The app and webpage,, use stories and quizzes to encourage young people to think about positive ways to work their way through difficult relationships, as well as offering support and advice.

The app is available to download free for Android at:

Young people from Lancashire Youth Council and groups of young people from Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Italy have worked with researchers to develop the app and websites. All of the stories and quizzes used are based on research with other young people.

The Lancashire Youth Council is supported by Lancashire County Council's Young People's Service.

The young people also helped to design questionnaires that were completed by 4,500 teenagers from across Europe, as well as England, to make sure the information used is relevant.

This pioneering work was recently showcased at a Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships (STIR), international convention in London recently, attended by seven members of the Lancashire Youth Council.

It was presented by 16 year-old Emily Holt, and other members of the Lancashire Youth Council who worked on both the app and the webpage. Emily said: "This project has been a brilliant experience. I am proud to have been able to work with such an amazing group and come up with such a life-changing app. We've had some very positive feedback from everyone who's seen it. They're telling us that it's a great app, which can help so many people who end up in a controlling relationship to get advice, help and reassurance."

The launch of the website and app coincides with the publication of research that reveals that more than four in ten teenage schoolgirls in England reported experiencing sexual coercion, including rape. Many 13-17 year-olds had also suffered physical attacks, intimidation or emotional coercion from boyfriends.

The research that has informed the Stir It Up project in England was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Central Lancashire and University of Bristol - led by NSPCC Senior Research Fellow, Dr Christine Barter.

Thinking of standing for election in May 2015? Briefing sessions next week.

Lancaster City Council is holding a number of briefing sessions for prospective candidates and election agents in preparation for the elections taking place in May this year.

Thursday 7 May 2015 will see residents of the Lancaster district voting in parliamentary, city council and in some cases town/parish council elections.

Candidates and agents are invited to come along to the following briefing evenings:

Thursday 12 March - City Council elections - 6.15pm at Lancaster Town Hall
Tuesday 17 March - City Council elections - 6.15pm at Morecambe Town Hall
Thursday 19 March - Town/Parish Council elections - 6.15pm at Lancaster Town Hall
Friday 27 March - Parliamentary Elections - 3pm at Lancaster Town Hall

Mark Cullinan, chief executive and returning officer for Lancaster City Council, said: “Becoming a local councillor or MP can be a very rewarding experience – it offers a unique opportunity to make a difference to your community by taking a leading role on issues that matter to local people and to help shape, direct and monitor the services which affect the people who live in, work in and visit the Lancaster district.

“These briefings will tell potential candidates and agents everything they will need to know about standing for and the processes involved in the elections.  Nomination packs will be available for collection at these sessions, which I would urge anyone considering standing as a candidate to attend.”

Nomination packs for all elections can be collected in person from Lancaster Town Hall from Thursday March 12.

Electric Car facilities funding bid for Lancaster

Electric cars could become a common sight in Lancaster if a bid to win thousands of pounds in government funding is successful.

Lancashire County Council has set the wheels in motion to encourage use of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) by providing infrastructure such as charging points and a range of incentives for individuals and companies to take up the technology.

The county council has entered the initial 'screening' phase of a Department for Transport funding round with a bid based on making Lancaster an exemplar city for adoption of low emission vehicles. If feedback from the government is positive the county council could develop the bid and apply for funding.

County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "The government has made substantial funding available to encourage use of ultra-low emission vehicles by residents, businesses, public services and transport companies.

"They are keen to encourage investment in the UK as the technology develops and becomes more widespread, with funding available to councils to help sow the seeds for future success.

"It's very early days and, if accepted, our initial bid would need to be fully developed. However, we believe that Lancaster, which has a strong track record of delivering green transport initiatives and suffers from air quality and noise problems due to city centre congestion, is ideally suited to become an exemplar for use of low emissions vehicles.

"If a UK industry develops around manufacture of low emissions vehicles there could be significant benefits for Lancashire's automotive industry in terms of being a place where people are familiar with the technology and which has a head start in terms of supporting infrastructure."

The Go Ultra Low City scheme for Lancaster could include introducing electric buses and taxis, preferential parking for low emissions vehicles, and providing charging points in Lancaster and places with strong connections to Lancaster such as Preston.

Green Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, Lancaster City Council cabinet member with responsibility for air quality and climate change, said: "News that Lancaster is to be entered into the bidding process to develop the city as a Go Low Ultra City is welcome news.

"Funding to provide incentives which might encourage businesses and residents to switch to ultra-low emission vehicles would be a great step forward in reducing noise and air pollution caused by traffic congestion problems in Lancaster’s city centre."

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

'Money for Madagascar' charity seeks new Chairperson

Diggging foundations for a new school (now completed) 2011

Money for Madagascar (MfM) is a small charity, founded in 1986 that aims to build the resilience of vulnerable people and conserve the environment of Madagascar through sustainable, community-led initiatives. MfM is engaged in a holistic programme providing funding for clean water and sanitation; disaster relief; health, education and welfare; environmental sustainability and individual and community enterprise.

MfM is looking to appoint a new Chair with the aim of providing strategic leadership as the charity expand its work in Madagascar. Knowledge of Madagascar is not essential but would be a very welcome bonus. The role of Chair is an honorary position, with reasonable expenses paid. The Charity's administrative office is based in Lancaster but there are 12 trustees spread across the United Kingdom and it is not essential for the Chair to be based in North West England.

Essentially a funding body with recent expenditure in the region of £250,000 per year, the charity work with and through Malagasy partners as a matter of principle, believing that they have their own solutions. MfM aims to continue to help build the capacity of community leaders to transform their lives and foster grass-roots sustainable development.

If this opportunity might interest you, MfM would be delighted to send you details. If this is not for you, but you may know a potential applicant, they would be very grateful if you would pass this on to interested parties.

You an find out more about the charity and about the vacancy on its website at

You can see its registration and filed accounts on the Charity Commission website here.
You can also see some videos about the context and work of the charity at

The deadline for applications is Tuesday 7 April 2015. For further details and an application pack please contact:

Health Secretary publishes damning report on UHMBT 'dysfunctional' maternity unit

Furness General Hospital

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt yesterday published the Report of the  Morecambe Bay Investigation which looked into failures in care at Furness General Hospital (FGH) Maternity Unit between 2004 and 2013. You can download the report in full here. The report found:

"20 instances of failures of care at FGH  that were significant or major, associated with three maternal deaths, ten stillbirths and six neonatal  deaths. In 13 of these we found, in the words of the validated investigation method, 'suboptimal care  in which different management would reasonably have been expected to make a difference to the  outcome', including one maternal death, five stillbirths and six neonatal deaths; the prevalence of  these serious failures of care was four times that at Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI)."

Staff wouldn't cooperate
The report found that working relationships between obstetricians, midwives and pediatricians at the hospital were extremely poor and there had been repeated failures in arranging to have the needs of at-risk patients addressed. Consultants had failed to take on the clinical responsibility of addressing these problems. None of  these groups were able to work effectively together, with repeated instances of failure to communicate important clinical information about individual patients.

Managers had ignored warnings, colluded in cover-ups or professed not to have been told of any problems. Upper levels of Trust management seemed to only take an active interest in any problems where negative publicity was involved, or where it might interfere with progress towards achieving Foundation Trust status.

Failure at almost every level
The report concluded  "that these events represent a major failure at almost every level. There were  clinical failures, including failures of knowledge, team-working and approach to risk. There were  investigatory failures, so that problems were not recognised and the same mistakes were needlessly  repeated. There were failures, by both maternity unit staff and senior Trust staff, to escalate clear  concerns that posed a threat to safety. There were repeated failures to be honest and open with  patients, relatives and others raising concerns. The Trust was not honest and open with external  bodies or the public. There was significant organisational failure on the part of the CQC, which  left it unable to respond effectively to evidence of problems. The NW Strategic Health Authority (SWA) and the Public Health Services Ombudsman failed to  take opportunities that could have brought the problems to light sooner, and the Department of Health was reliant  on misleadingly optimistic assessments from the NW SHA. All of these organisations failed to  work together effectively and to communicate effectively, and the result was mutual reassurance  concerning the Trust that was based on no substance."

Families fobbed off 
A campaign by bereaved families over several years to bring the problem to light was robustly resisted by the Trust. It was when the Trust applied for Foundation status  in 2009 that it was required to  list its current serious 'untoward incidents', and declared 12, five in FGH maternity services. This alerted Monitor, which informed the North West Strategic Health Authority (NW SHA) and the newly formed Care Quality Commission (CQC).

In 2012 the Royal Lancaster Infirmary was threatened with closure after Monitor highlighted serious failings in the A&E department as well as other inadequacies in the Trust's organisational capacity. It noted, for example, that the Trust had failed to recognise that a backlog of missed appointments was a major clinical problem affecting around 14,000 patients. (See VL report).

CQC suppressed findings
A further scandal erupted when it was revealed in 2013 that the CQC had deliberately suppressed an internal review that highlighted weaknesses in its 2010 inspection of the UHMB Trust and that the Commission had "provided false assurances to the public". It was at this point that the current investigation by the Secretary of State for Health was initiated.

Money troubles
While key areas of concern, such as Maternity, A&E and Stroke hospital services were targeted for improvement in 2013, the Trust was struggling with its budget, and in May 2013 circulated a consultation document (see VL report) looking at ways to shave a necessary £30 million from its £250 million annual budget to cover previous overspends - a reduction of 13%. At the same time the Trust also faced the challenge of adapting to the fundamental changes to the NHS brought about by Conservative Health Minister Andrew Lansley's new Health & Social Care Act.

Special Measures
Last June the Trust was again placed under special measures by Monitor following an inspection report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which rated the UHMB Trust 'Inadequate', mainly due to poor staffing levels resulting in inadequate and unsafe care in several areas. (See their reports)

For more information and background to the report see our previous story
Morecambe Bay Hospital Trust under Special Measures after 'Inadequate' rating.

Disciplinary procedures
To date, seven individuals are being investigated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in relation to events at FGH, while eight doctors have been investigated by the GMC.  One was struck off, one received a warning, and one was given advice. No action was taken against five doctors, while one further doctor was still being investigated.

Trust "Deeply sorry"
Yesterday the Trust's current chair, Jackie Daniels, issued on behalf of the Trust an unreserved apology to the families of those who suffered as a result of poor care in the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital between 2004 and 2013. You can read her full statement here. 

She went on to say that:

"The Trust welcomes the publication of the Morecambe Bay Investigation report, accepts and acknowledges the criticisms and accepts its recommendations without reservation.

"Towards the end of the period covered by this report - as a consequence of the problems in maternity and neonatal services - the whole Trust board changed and the Secretary of State for Health commissioned the Morecambe Bay Investigation.

  • The new board recognised the need for improvement in our maternity and neonatal services and the Trust has now made a number of service improvements including the following:
  • We’ve made a significant investment in staffing with over 50 additional midwives and doctors.
  • We’ve improved culture and team working at the Trust introducing, for example, multi-disciplinary ward rounds that take place four times a day on our maternity units.
  • And we’ve improved patient safety by ensuring best practice and learning are shared consistently across all of our hospitals.

"The Morecambe Bay Investigation report notes that concerns over clinical practice were confined to Furness General Hospital and concludes that significant progress is being made at this maternity unit. 

"We welcome these comments but we must not be complacent. We will address all the recommendations in this report to ensure that we further improve the services we offer to women and families, across our hospitals.”

Responses from our elected representatives
Conservatives and Labour both pledged to introduce after the 2010 election an independent cadre of medical examiners to check death certificates, which are usually written by junior doctors. These would also hold discussions with bereaved relatives and, where necessary, consult coroners.  The long-promised system was legislated for by Labour in government in 2009 and trialled by the coalition government extensively since. However, funding arguments have contributed to delays to the reforms. Yesterday, after prompting by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham (Lab), Health Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt (Con) said that they would happen.

Demonstrating his grasp of UHMBT practices, MP David Morris (Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale) said in parliament yesterday: "In my constituency, the effects of what has happened in our trust have been deeply felt. I would also like to reach out to my hon. Friend outside the Chamber, John Woodcock (MP Labour, Barrow in Furness). We have to put everything behind us."

Eric Ollerenshaw MP (Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood) said: "I assure the Secretary of State that many thousands of workers in the NHS in my area do a really good job in very difficult geographical circumstances.  

"I was newly elected to Parliament in 2010. My experience, alongside that of colleagues whom I see in the House, as a constituency MP dealing with the huge institution that is the NHS has been that it is difficult to find out who is responsible, where and for what. Like everybody else, my heart goes out to the parents. I do not know how they have struggled on, with their loss and with being confronted with what almost seems like a professional or administrative closing of ranks and doors to their pleas for some information on what happened. It is just unbelievable."

Gina Dowding, Green County Councillor and member of Lancashire's Health Scrutiny Committee told VL today:

"The report makes for very sad and concerning reading. What is absolutely clear is that there was a failure to listen to patients by a whole range of organizations who should have paid attention. The whole tragedy highlights a systemic failure and underlines the need to make sure that the NHS and those who manage it are more democratically accountable;  and that the the regulatory system established to ensure quality of care (that is, the governance of  professional practice and standards) are  transparent and sensitive to real people's experience.   

"As a member of the Lancashire Health Scrutiny  committee, one of the NHS scrutiny bodies that have been introduced since this tragic case, I can say that I am not confident that the systems in place today would be any better at preventing this type of tragedy occurring again." 

Local Cinema Round-Up for 4th to 12th 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.

Three new releases come to the cinema this week. There is science fiction adventure with Chappie (15); adult comedy with Unfinished Business (15) and a mystery drama Inherent Vice (15). The latter was released at the end of January but is new to Lancaster.

Films that are no longer being shown include Peppa Pig and the the award winning Birdman & The Imitation Game. We do however see the return of family animation with the popular Paddington. On the down side it seems likely that the following films are soon to be dropped from the schedule Jupiter Ascending; The Wedding Ringer and The Theory of Everything.

All the new releases this week are aimed at an adult audience. However there is still an excess of family entertainment on offer with Big Hero 6; Shaun the Sheep and The Penguins of Madagascar.

This week finds romantic dramas well represented with Forty Shades of Grey and The Boy Next Door. Alternatively there is a good selection of comedy with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Focus; The Wedding Ringer and Unfinished Business. Also there is high culture with RSC Love's Labour's Won and the Bolshoi: Romeo & Juliet.

Films of note are the French movie Cycling with Moliere showing at the Campus in the City and the drama mystery Inherent Vice playing at the Dukes.


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.

Director: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Will Smith, Gerald McRaney, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor
Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is a career con artist who, early in the film, takes on an inexperienced Jess Barrett (Robbie) as an apprentice. There is a sexual chemistry between the two, but Nicky and Jess part. Years later Nicky is running a con for the billionaire motorsport owner Rafael Garriga (Santoro), but finds that Jess is now Santoro's girlfriend. The chemistry again starts between Jess and Nicky and we find they are both trying to con Garriga. However the latter seeks revenge. The movie is something of a dark romance with some violence and a good amount of comedy. It is well acted in exciting locations and is sure to entertain.

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 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. 

Lancaster City Council sets its 2015/16 budget: More Cuts Ahead

Lancaster City Council faces a tough financial future with continuing government cuts leading to further reductions to services.

That was the stark warning presented to councillors this week as they decided the council’s annual budget.

While the books have been balanced for the next financial year without any reductions to services, the council faces having to find savings of nearly £3.5 million by 2018.

This is in addition to cuts the council has already seen over the last five years, during which the amount available to spend on services has reduced by more than £7million.

The budget report presented to Council on Wednesday (4th March ) warned “unless the council addresses its ongoing budget funding gap fairly soon, based on current forecasts it could run out of funds part way through 2017/18.  That is not far away.” 

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Over the last four years we’ve had to be very careful with our finances.

“While our financial strategy has worked so far without major reductions to services, where the cuts have had a severe effect is the council’s ambitions to do so much more in terms of jobs, the economy and housing.

“Unfortunately this looks set to continue into the future and the latest projections paint a bleak picture. The scale of the financial challenges still facing the council cannot be underestimated.

“The need to reduce services, be more efficient and generate more income is therefore expected to increase and over the coming year, a range of major service reductions will have to be considered."

Litter pickers give district a facelift

Outside the Trimpell Club: Before and After 

Local volunteers have been giving the district a makeover - cleaning up litter blackspots, clearing overgrown pavements and footpaths and even laying hedges.

Litterpicks have been undertaken across Lancaster and Morecambe by our local City and County Green councillors and prospective candidates. And, credit where it's due, this isn't just a pre-election showpiece - pulling together teams to clear overgrown and litter-strewn alleyways, footpaths, leisure areas and threatened beauty-spots is something that local Greens have been doing regularly for years.

An open ditch outside the Trimpell Club in Morecambe (pictured above) that was festering with discarded rubbish had a makeover at the weekend thanks to a team of hardy volunteers along with Poulton Ward Green Party council candidate, Clare Long Summers.

City Coun Abi Mills worked with a team of local volunteers tackling a dangerously overgrown footpath alongside Ashton Road.  It was cleared and cleaned by the hardy team in hi-viz vests working at the roadside and making a safer journey for pedestrians. You can see a video of their work here.

Mayor-elect Jon Barry worked alongside a team of volunteers got things shifted along the playing fields cyclepath in Lancaster and County Coun Gina Dowding's team has been giving alleyways a facelift in residential areas.

Coun Caroline Jackson joined a team taking on woodlands around the Ridge estate while Green Party parliamentary Candidates Chris Coates and Phil Chandler have been working like troopers at several of these events. The walk alongside the River Lune at Skerton is greatly improved now, as residents and visitors to the area will appreciate.  If they get elected all that experience of shovelling away rubbish may well come in handy.

Here are some pictures from these events.  We're sorry if we missed any out, they've been happening thick and fast. Keep your pictures coming!

Abi Mills + team on Ashton Road

Mayor-elect Jon Barry (centre) + team clear a cyclepath in Lancaster

Caroline Jackson + team restore local woodlands to natural peace

County Coun Gina Dowding (left), Parliamentary candidate Chris Coates
and Coun Abi Mills  + team get stuck in

Parliamentary candidate Phil Chandler (in stripes) + team
take on the riverside walk at Skerton
Dukes Ward Councillor Dave Brookes (at back) and team
remove a mountain of litter from the Aldcliffe Road area