Doncaster and Barnsley are helping pay for our trams, how can we ever repay them?
Supertram is about to go public — and is expected to lose £6.3m in its first year
Good afternoon, members — and welcome to today’s Tribune.
Imagine going out to a restaurant with three friends and, for some inexplicable reason, you and one other friend decide to order nothing. Half the table patiently sips tap water, while one person tucks into a main and another enjoys a full three-course meal. At the end, they cheerfully suggest you split the bill into equal quarters.
This is the situation that Barnsley and Doncaster find themselves in as the region prepares to bring the Supertram system into public control. It’s a change that will require significant financial investment which, according to South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard, “is a down payment on our ambitions for a different type of transport network in South Yorkshire”. Except, at least for the foreseeable future, said network doesn’t cover South Yorkshire; it covers Sheffield and a bit of Rotherham. So what’s in it for the region’s two other councils?
But first, Sheffield’s new tallest building gets the go-ahead and a family complains their elderly relative was mistreated at a Page Hall care home.
Editor’s note: As per our standard procedure, only the first part of today’s story is available to our free subscribers — you’ll have to upgrade to a paid membership using the button above to gain access to the rest. In addition, you’ll also start receiving our entirely subscriber-only stories every Tuesday, for just £7 a month. That’s less than two quid a week for an extra one (and a half) articles from The Tribune, even though each one involves a significant amount of work, whether that’s attending a council meeting, poring over documents or pounding the pavements. Join today to support our investigations and enable us to take on bigger, more ambitious reporting in the future.
💳 According to Bloomberg, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is contemplating a bold change intended to offer a lifeline to local councils teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, which would get rid of the current requirement to seek specific permission from the government before selling off a public asset to fund front-line services. In their analysis of this potential future, NowThen suggest it would lead to “the biggest transfer of wealth to the city’s richest in decades,” potentially putting office buildings, housing, public parks, art galleries, commercial property and land up for sale. As of 2020, Sheffield was one of the biggest land-owners among all English councils; around a quarter of the city’s land is publicly owned.
🏗️ Yesterday, plans to build what will be the new tallest skyscraper in Sheffield — and the second-tallest in the whole of Yorkshire — were approved. King’s Tower, a 40-storey, 117-metre behemoth is set to rise from the ashes of the old Primark in Castlegate and, as we reported last month, it will not be greeted with open arms from all corners. If you’re wondering about the inspiration for this soon-to-be landmark, Pott Shrigley on X has the answer.
👵 Two Sheffield sisters spoke to Sky News, alleging their elderly mother was neglected while living at Abbey Grange Care and Nursing Home in Page Hall. While the CQC chose not to lower its rating after an inspection in July 2022, in response to their complaint, their concerns about the treatment of residents with dementia were backed up by the family of another resident and a former staff member. This ex-staff member claims there were sometimes just two employees caring for 26 people with dementia and that they were told not to use more than two incontinence pads a day for each person, even if they had soiled themselves.
Things to do
🏍️ On Saturday, Utilita Arena will be hosting the DL12 Indoor Trial, a competition for motorcycle trial riders created by champion of the sport Dougie Lampkin. It is the second event of its kind, after the inaugural trial last January, and promises to be even better. Get your tickets here.
🎷 On Saturday night, “tenor titan” Jean Toussaint will lead a band of top jazz musicians at the Crucible Playhouse. Toussaint, on saxophone, will be accompanied by performers playing piano, bass and drums. The show kicks off at 7pm and you can get your tickets here.
🛏️ Saturday is also the first day of this year’s annual Under The Bed art sale, where artists offer cheap original work ranging in price from as little as £1 to a maximum of £350. Around 4,000 works in all mediums will be available at Cupola Gallery. The sale began after director Karen Sherwood visited an artist who showed off some early work she was storing “quite literally, under her bed”. Find out more here.
Doncaster and Barnsley are helping pay for our trams, how can we ever repay them?
By Victoria Munro
Two years ago, the “relative unknown” who had just been elected the new mayor of South Yorkshire was asked by ITV News if he planned to be a “lower profile” leader, like his predecessor Dan Jarvis, or follow in the footsteps of Manchester’s Andy Burnham. “I’m Oliver Coppard,” he replied, neatly dodging the question, “I’m going to do it my way.” He’d be “looking at other mayors and taking lessons,” but he’d deliver those lessons with his own decisive spin.
The impression many people have formed since is that he was merely being coy. Coppard, they allege, is very clearly keeping his eye on Greater Manchester — and keen to align himself with high-profile leaders like Andy Burham. Take the plans for him to absorb the responsibilities of South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, which were recently put to the public for consultation. If approved, the significant change in his role will force Coppard to stand for re-election on 2nd May next year, just two years into his first ever term.
He must really want to set the policing budget, you may be thinking, or else he’s supremely confident about his chances of victory. Currently, only three mayors in the country have done away with their police and crime commissioner — Sadiq Khan in London, Andy Burnham in Manchester and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire — so it’s not as if South Yorkshire is trailing behind the times. But perhaps he had another reason for racing to the polls far earlier than planned. After all, 2nd May 2024 is also the date that Khan, Burnham and Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram will be hoping to secure another term.
Coppard, some suggest, is hoping to rub shoulders with them, although whether for the advancement of the region or for the sake of his own career is up for interpretation. Khan, Burnham and Rotheram have formed something of a clique in recent years, joining forces as a trio or in various pairs to advance their common causes. For example, as our sister paper Liverpool Post reported last week, Rotheram helped Burnham (unsuccessfully) advocate for better train connectivity to Manchester through HS2, even though some critics suggested this would put Liverpool at a disadvantage. If Coppard was running for re-election at the same time, perhaps this could lead to a seat being set aside for South Yorkshire at the big kids’ table.
If this is his ambition, then the huge development whizzing down the line towards Sheffield is certainly not going to hurt his chances of being taken seriously. It’s been only a few months since Andy Burnham posed like a proud father next to Manchester’s bright yellow and publicly controlled Bee Network buses and already Coppard is on the verge of pulling off his own mass transit revolution.
On 22nd March this year, Stagecoach will hand over the reins for the Supertram network to South Yorkshire Future Trams Limited, a new arms-length company wholly owned by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA), which Coppard leads. “We have always owned the tram, it’s worth making that clear,” Coppard preached to the choir, at a meeting of the combined authority earlier this week, “but, for the last 30 years, it has been managed and run by Stagecoach, in the interests of Stagecoach.” From late March onwards, the unspoken end of this sentence goes, it will be run instead by the combined might of South Yorkshire, in the interests of South Yorkshire.
Well, certainly in the interests of Sheffield. And — to a lesser and more recent extent — in the interests of Rotherham. However, at the meeting on 9th January, the leaders of Doncaster and Barnsley politely pointed out that, for the foreseeable future, the tram network is distinctly uninteresting to their residents, apart from the fact they’re going to be helping to pay for it. Coppard may have successfully converted the non-believers, but there are still a few reservations about his gospel.
“South Yorkshire taxpayers to chip in £6m to cover Supertram losses,” yelped a headline in the Star and the Yorkshire Post earlier this week. The tram network currently earns only £17.3m a year, having seen passenger numbers decline from a high of nearly 15 million in 2010/11 to around 10 million today — something the SYMCA attributes to post-Covid societal changes and the network’s general disrepair. The cost of keeping the trams in motion, meanwhile, is £23.6m. In the first year of public ownership alone, the SYMCA will have to cough up the remaining £6.3m, a figure it will draw from the South Yorkshire Transport Levy paid by the four councils in the region. As the Supertram business plan notes, one of their “primary goals” will be to “decrease its dependence on the public purse” — but this is likely to take a number of years.
Coppard was happy to acknowledge that taking over the trams “does come with risk” but insisted that it “would be a huge act of self-harm” if the region chose not to do so. South Yorkshire is only one of nine places in the UK that boasts a tram network after all; his “friend and colleague” Tracy Brabin, mayor of West Yorkshire, “would kill” to have such an asset in her own region.