Are our buses about to get better and cheaper?
Why we might struggle to follow Greater Manchester, plus the rest of the weekly briefing
Dear readers — a warm welcome to our 50+ new members who have joined since we published our editor’s note yesterday, which has provoked a massive response. Here’s how Mike Unger, a former Guardian board member and former editor of the Echo, Liverpool Daily Post and then Manchester Evening News, responded in a comment under the story.
A very well written article about a very serious problem And it's no wonder the company calls itself Reach — it's not bothered about local journalism just clicks. It's unbelievable that both the MEN and Echo have to have a minimum of 850,000 ‘views’ a month! I'm proud to have edited the Post, Echo and MEN in the 1970s and 1980s and I'm ashamed of it now. Keep up the good work.
We are extremely moved by the amount of support we’ve had for the piece — many, many thanks for all your tweets and emails, like this one from Patrick Maguire, a political editor for The Times.
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Today’s briefing has analysis of Steve Rotheram’s plans to take the city region’s bus system back under local control and deliver a franchised network after 36 years of deregulation. We also have some great Post Picks for the week ahead, including a fire show at Sefton Park and a solidarity fundraiser for Ukraine, and some more beautiful photography by the very talented Hannah Cassidy.
Before we get into it, a quick request: Mary Kelly, an ex BBC journalist, has kindly offered to support our mission by sending a gift subscription to a reader who would like to receive all our journalism but is on low-income and may not be able to afford it. If this is you, please hit reply to this email with your details and we will get you set up.
This week’s weather
The big story: Liverpool City Region prepares to dismantle the bus system
The top line: Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram’s plan to introduce a franchised bus network moved one stage forward last Wednesday when members of the combined authority gave their support. The city region’s bus services are currently operated by private companies like Stagecoach and Arriva North West, but the idea of franchising is to reduce the grip of the big operators. St Helens is earmarked to start the process.
Deregulation: Bus networks (outside London) were deregulated in 1986 under Margaret Thatcher’s government in order to stir competition and innovation in the sector. In fact, the policy has led to local monopolies in many places because whichever company owns the local bus depot can dominate profitable routes.
“When I was a kid we used to have a decent bus service, you could get anywhere,” Rotheram has said, adding: “Just because London is the capital and attractive to some people, why should we settle for second best?”
Bus patronage has been steadily falling in the city region for the past decade, which is one of the arguments for trying a new system.
The current picture: The plan is to deliver a more affordable bus system with better connections and routes. Bringing buses under public control would allow the authority to set routes and fares. The catch is that lower fares will either need to be funded from higher local taxes or big government subsidies — probably both. That kind of central funding is possible, but it’s not currently secured.
The counter-argument: “Can it be delivered if there is no funding? If the government don’t provide it, it’ll have to come from local council tax increases,” says Gary Nolan, a former Stagecoach executive who now represents bus operators. “If you listen to Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, it’s all about undoing what Maggie Thatcher did in 1986. It’s all political. Someone will have to pick up the pieces because it won’t work.”
Greater Manchester is leading the way on re-regulating buses. Mayor Andy Burnham decided to take the system back under local control this time last year, and last week a challenge to his plan by the bus operators was rejected by a court ruling, clearing the way for a franchising system. Today he promised £2 single fares.
The bottom line: Rotheram’s plans for bus reform will be subject to an audit of the proposed scheme and a full public consultation, and he admitted it will be a long process before we see the proposed benefits of more affordable services and more convenient routes. “It won't happen overnight,” Rotheram said. “It doesn't mean that because we've taken this decision, tomorrow everything's going to be in a new livery.”
Local news in brief
High-performing schools in Liverpool are oversubscribed, new council data reveals. Hundreds of parents could appeal decisions on where their children are placed, and some have raised concern over racial bias as some students find it more difficult to get a place at faith-based schools. More here.
A developer has pulled out of a £50m high-rise residential development on Liverpool Waterfront, following months of discussions with Peel L&P, who own the site and say a new developer has been lined up already. More here.
Liverpool’s hospitality industry saw a 4.4% increase in restaurants, bars and pubs over the winter. Thom Hetherington, a hospitality expert, said: “Although this initial turnaround may be small, the direction of travel is a vital and encouraging change.” More here.
Developers will be held at arm's length while Liverpool City Council pushes on with the Kings Dock development on the Waterfront. The report said: “It ensures the council retains much greater control in the design and feasibility stages than a disposal to a developer across the whole site.” More here.
A Liverpool university student will be sentenced on Thursday for raping two women and sexually assaulting another. It follows Greater Manchester Police initially dropping an investigation into a report of him raping a woman in Salford. More here.
A flat fire in Kirkdale on Saturday, where an elderly woman died, was accidental and caused by smoking materials, the fire service confirmed, cautioning extra awareness of fire safety. More here.
The Covid-19 case rate for the Liverpool City Region is 461.2, up 53.3% from the previous week. England’s case rate is 497.1, up 49.3%. Cases are highest in the Wirral, and lowest in St Helens, about 300.
Home of the week
This 4-bedroom penthouse apartment in a Victorian Villa in Allerton was formerly the Archbishop of Liverpool’s house. It’s on the market for £475,000.
Our favourite reads
This article in the New Statesman warns clickbait journalism risks cutting people off from their communities, and suggests Reach Plc’s page views policy – which we discussed yesterday – could mean newspapers like the Liverpool Echo and the Manchester Evening News are local in name only. “As it stands, Reach risks knowing the ad rate of everything, but the value of nothing.”
A great review of Cherry Jezebel in the Guardian, the darkly comic show about the lives of drag queens which is currently showing at the Everyman. “His is a voice that is black to the point of cruelty, yet also compassionate. It would be camp if it were not so vicious; sentimental if it were not so funny. He gets laughs from cancer and suicide, but reserves his real anger for a world that is violently intolerant of those who wander from the heterosexual norm.”
Also in the Guardian, we liked this piece by the writer Robert Yates about watching a football game at Goodison Park with his nine-year-old son, and how a love of the beautiful game and Liverpool brought them closer together. “My lot has been in Liverpool for a century and more, since the forebears left Ireland; converging in particular on one street, where rented homes, then social housing, would be “inherited” over generations. This history — one place resonating with a family’s presence and memories over a long time — is not part of Solomon’s regular world.”
Photo of the week
Cruise season begins in Liverpool today, with the huge luxury ship the Valiant Lady docking at the cruise terminal for a showcase to cruise industry professionals and prospective travellers. We liked this photo of the Mersey Ferries from last summer by Hannah Cassidy.
🇺🇦 Future Yard in Birkenhead are hosting a live music fundraiser on Wednesday night, with proceeds going towards Help Ukraine, a charity providing humanitarian and medical aid to the worst affected regions. Tickets are £10.
🖼 We liked A New Beauty, the exhibition in Victoria Gallery and Museum exploring how beauty standards evolved in art, from the softness of pre-Raphaelite paintings to Victorian portraits. More here.
🔥 Flow and fire artists are gathering at Sefton Park lake on Saturday evening, where people are invited to watch them perform with fire. It’s free to attend. More here.
☘️ Liverpool Irish Centre have a great programme of events for St Patrick’s Day, including a parade, afternoon tea and traditional Irish dancing. It is estimated three-quarters of Liverpool’s population has Irish roots, so expect a lively day filled with celebrations. More here.
🎻 Pixels Ensemble, a chamber music collective who perform calming, contemplative pieces of classical and modern music, are performing a lunchtime concert at the Tung Auditorium on Wednesday. Book here.
🎨 A new exhibition at the Bluecoat started this weekend. Suki Chan worked with dementia patients to explore memory loss and perceptions of reality, creating sculpture, photography and three short films. More here.
📚 There’s a literary and comedy talk with actor Bob Odenkirk at West Africa House on Sunday evening. Book here.
🎤 The punk poet John Cooper Clarke is performing at the Liverpool Guild on Friday evening. More here.
Letters from readers
This is a wonderful article offering great insights into the vital work of an inspiring man (‘How does a person rejoin society after 20 years inside?’). Heartening! Bee
Great titbit in today’s The Post (‘Liverpool Tyre Extinguishers declare war on SUVs’): "SUV buyers were ‘insecure, vain and frequently nervous about their marriages’." Especially liked the self-described 'working-class' voter in his £300,000 house complaining about his SUV's tyres being deflated. No, people should have their tyres slashed by eco-vandalists. But most people also don't need an SUV in the middle of Mossley Hill, Dr David Jeffery
This is one of the reasons I subscribe to yourselves (‘Bored of publishing clickbait, the Liverpool Echo moves to crush its competition’). To be honest I don’t always read every article, but I want to help create an alternative news source in this city, one that isn’t just CLICKBAIT, Glynn Parry
I started work for the Post and Echo in 1972 (‘Bored of publishing clickbait, the Liverpool Echo moves to crush its competition’). When the papers split into completely separate entities in the early ‘80s I became a Post employee. Over the next 25 years I was proud to be the news editor, chief sub editor, revise editor and deputy night editor. I left in 2007 and moved to the Manchester Evening News after a spell at Press Association. The Echo always catered for the mass of the Merseyside population, the Post aimed for the business community. Both aimed for a high standard of journalism, always pursuing genuine news stories affecting the lives of Merseysiders — something that can’t be said for today’s pitiful trashy Echo offerings, Alistair Coull