‘The start of a new era’: Rotheram brings our buses back under public control
Plus: Sir Keir Starmer has kicked off the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool… by saying he’s ‘happy’ to work with The Sun
Dear readers — it’s sometimes uncharitably said that Liverpool has fallen several decades behind Manchester, but not today. Nope, with the announcement that Liverpool’s buses will be coming back under public control, following similar recent news along the M62, we’re not a day more than two weeks behind. Now that is progress.
But seriously, Friday was a big day for metro mayor Steve Rotheram, who described the announcement as his “most significant act" in the job so far. It means Liverpool becomes the second city since the 1980s to have publicly controlled buses, reversing deregulation and introducing franchising on routes. In today’s Big Story, we’ll have a look at what it all means, and plenty more.
At the weekend, we published a sprawling piece by Matt O’Donoghue, a highly respected investigative journalist whose previous publications and channels (BBC Panorama, Newsnight, the Sunday Times) are only slightly less esteemed than The Post. The piece forensically dissected Liverpool City Council’s ‘invest to earn’ strategy under former mayor Joe Anderson through the lens of one particularly ill-fated investment in a company selling supercars. As Matt exclusively revealed, £1 million had turned into a meagre £50,000. The rest, well, you’ll have to read the piece…
Last week also saw two excellent pieces for paying members. On Tuesday we stepped into our white lab coats — and we looked very chic in them, too — for a visit to the Knowledge Quarter’s Pandemic Institute, where a group of scientists are going about the not-so-simple task of making sure we’re never unprepared for a pandemic again. Then on Thursday, Daniel Timms got to grips with a local issue you don’t often hear spoken about: debt. Why has Merseyside got one of the highest rates of insolvency in the country? We found out.
Editor’s note: A warm welcome to our 15 newest Post members, who signed up over the weekend, taking us tantalisingly close to the 1300 mark. It would be great to have a real push this week and get past that milestone if possible. The Post has been experiencing a belated summer growth spurt and we’d love to keep that up. If you value the work we do, and want to see more journalism that takes the time to understand the truth behind what our local institutions are saying, rather than blindly re-publishing their words, then do consider supporting us. It costs only £7 a month to do so.
Want to have a greener home?
From today’s sponsor: As part of Retrofit Action Week, The Home Upgrade Show (13-14 October) is an unmissable event for anyone looking to create a greener, healthier and more energy-efficient home. It’s brought to you by Low Carbon Homes and it’s so good it’s worth travelling to Manchester for, taking place at the beautiful Victoria Baths. It’s a unique showcase of over 50 exhibitors and will include “Ask an Architect” sessions, a heat pump clinic and advice on how to phase a “deep retrofit”. Go ahead and register for free.
This week’s weather
Tuesday ☀️ Sunny and a gentle breeze with highs of 21°C
Wednesday 🌦️ Light rain showers and a moderate breeze with highs of 17°C
Thursday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 14°C
Friday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 16°C
Weekend 🌧️ Light rain and a gentle breeze with highs of 15°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Rotheram brings our buses back under public control
Top line: The Liverpool City Region will become the second area outside London to bring its buses back under public control after a vote on Friday. According to metro mayor Steve Rotheram, the decision “[marks] the start of a new era for public transport”.
Context: In 1985 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government passed the Transport Act, deregulating all buses outside London. Ever since, that decision has been a bone of contention for many — especially on the left — who feel that privatisation has resulted in over-priced and poor services. In 2017, new legislation gave mayors power to introduce franchising, but it’s taken six years to actually reach this point, both here and in Manchester. For both Rotheram and Andy Burnham in Manchester, this could be seen as the most important moment yet of their tenures (supposedly, Manchester’s former city leader Sir Richard Leese would tell Burnham "the whole reason you exist is to do buses,” while Rotheram on Friday said it was his “most significant act" to date).
Our local bus services have certainly taken a lot of stick of late, with consultations showing that the public see Merseyside buses as over-expensive and unreliable. Around 15% of our services rely on subsidies by the local authority — costing £14 million a year — having been deemed commercially unviable by the operator.
Under the franchised model, private companies will continue to operate buses, but the combined authority regulates the routes they take (there was previously criticism that operators were prioritising the money-making routes meaning that some areas went without a decent bus service) and the fares they charge. Operators have to bid to win the various franchises.
Rotheram’s announcement also contained a series of other promises:
Buying a new fleet of buses
Investing in zero emissions technology
Controlling the way the “whole system starts to integrate together with trains, ferries and active travel” (with capped fares across the city region’s trains and buses)
Ticketing will be simplified with a tap and go system
And a 12 week consultation showed that the decision is a popular one. More than two-thirds (69%, precisely) of the public voiced support for franchising. All six of the region’s leaders agreed that a franchised system would provide better value for taxpayers.
According to Rotheram, “today marks the start of a new era for public transport in our area”. He continued:
Hundreds of thousands of people in our area rely on buses to get about every day, with 82% of all public transport journeys taken by bus. Yet, for far too long, our residents have been forced to contend with a second-class service that places profit before passengers and leaves behind the very people who need it most.
Bottom line: Decisions such as Friday’s demonstrate the entire purpose of the metro mayor/combined authority model. Rotheram isn’t exaggerating when he calls this his most significant act in the role so far. And while it won’t be rolled out all at once, rather in phases between 2026 and 2028, the success of the project will likely be key to any appraisals of his legacy.
Your Post briefing
With the Conservatives last week cancelling a major infrastructure project to Manchester in the form of HS2 during their conference in *checks notes* Manchester, perhaps Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer wanted to go one further in his attempts to infuriate locals. Speaking to ITV, he said he was “happy to work with The Sun, to write for The Sun, to do interviews with The Sun", citing his need to reach as many people as possible before the next election. Liverpudlians quickly took to social media site X to express their outrage: “A deeply dishonest individual, beneath contempt. Deserves all the eggs we can send his way next week…” one user wrote. “He is absolutely vile. I hope Liverpool gives him the welcome he deserves,” wrote another, referencing this week’s Labour conference in…Liverpool.
On that topic, The Labour Conference is now in full swing at the M&S Bank Arena, with Starmer already making big promises should his party win the next General Election. In an announcement over the weekend, Starmer said he would cut NHS waiting lists by funding two million more hospital appointments a year — at a cost of £1.1 billion per annum. This would be paid for by savings from ending the non-dom tax status, he said. Alongside his promises to improve NHS waiting times, he pledged to set up specialist further education colleges to tackle local skills shortages, as well as a new expert body, Skills England, to improve skills training. We’ll keep you updated in our briefings this week as to how the rest of the much-anticipated conference unfolds.
Liverpool screenwriter and director Terence Davies has died at the age of 77. Davies was best known for his 1988 film Distant Voices, Still Lives; a depiction of working class life in Merseyside that has since been ranked one of the best British films of all time. In a glowing tribute on X, Liverpool actor David Morrissey said he was “one of our greatest filmmakers”, adding: “He was born a few streets away from where me and my family grew up and his films had a special place in my heart, a scorching insight into how my parents, their friends and neighbours lived.”
Baby dolls were strapped to the iconic iron statues on Crosby beach this weekend in a protest over paternity pay. Campaign group Pregnant then Screwed attached the dolls to the chests of the statues — first placed on the beach by London sculptor Antony Gormley in 2005 — in an attempt to push the government to increase paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks. The government has since said there are "no current plans to offer six weeks of paid paternity leave as standard".
Home of the week
This three bedroom home in Litherland is on the market for £195,000. It’s within walking distance to local shops, schools and transport links to the city centre, plus it has a good sized rear garden with plenty of natural light. Find out more here.
🎸Edinburgh folk rock band The Waterboys head to the Philharmonic Hall on Wednesday to celebrate a musical career spanning four decades. Led by guitarist Mike Scott, the latest version of the band features Memphis-based keyboardist Paul Brown, drummer Ralph Salmins, and bassist Aongus Ralston. Buy tickets here.
📖Sunday Times bestselling author Dan Jones heads to Waterstones this Thursday for a signing of his latest book, Wolves of Winter. The book centres around 10 ordinary soldiers in the early years of the Hundred Years’ War — encapsulating tales of pirate ships to the influence of 14th century oligarchs. Find out more here.
🎭Talking of the 14th century, why not head to the Casa Bar on Saturday for And Katherine Brewed, a play set in the 1300s hosted by Casa’s own Katherine Brewed? Full of humour as well as historical insight, the play follows the stories of four central characters — an ex-soldier, a village girl, a freed prisoner and a brewer — as they fight through the land workers’ revolution. Find out more here.
😂Manchester comic Rachel Fairburn takes to the stage at Hot Water Comedy Club this Friday with her new show, Showgirl. With six critically acclaimed solo shows under belt, Fairburn has earned her place on the comedy circuit, previously shortlisted for City Life Comedian of the Year and English Comedian of the Year. Grab a ticket here.
Our favourite reads
“Ah, briny, blustery Liverpool!” begins Andrew Marr in this Labour Conference preview for the New Statesman. ”For a conference all about order, predictability, stability and a smooth, unemphatic road to power, it’s hard to think of an odder venue for Labour than this great port city of radicals and immigrants, which in some ways seems barely English”. According to Marr, Liverpool is a place where the Labour of Jeremy Corbyn felt at home, but it’s the more technocratic Labour of Starmer that has a chance this week to shift perceptions of the man now in charge and create a smooth path to power. Are Liverpool and Starmer’s Labour as uneasy bedfellows as Marr suggests? Let us know below.
From Luke Charnley, a review of a play at Salford’s White Hotel, centred around a uniquely strange central character: Merseyside bogeyman Purple Aki. Real name Akinwale Arobieke: a 6’5” man who became notorious across the region (especially on school playgrounds) due to numerous accusations of harassment against young bodybuilders. Arobieke has spent much of his life under police restriction, and has come to exist more in folk-myth and online meme culture than reality. “Being Purple Aki asks us to examine why we may laugh about a subject like this, and how the ostracisation of Aki from society may reflect back on us negatively,” Charnley writes. “Obsession pursues obsession down the digital rabbit hole.”
Letters from readers
We should be proud of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine which is a world renowned institution and good to see another success story with the Pandemic Institute. However shame on the government for breaking funding promises, ‘At the Pandemic Institute, a group of scientists are waging war on an unknown assailant’, Stevo
After working in banking all of my working life I’ve seen the devastation debt can cause people. It’s so easy to access credit but when you default, the hounds are released to chase you down. Sometimes it’s a lack of financial understanding or simply trying to make ends meet. Some people just choose to live beyond their means, others have no choice, ‘Liverpudlians are drowning in debt. What’s going on?’, Carolyn Thornton