‘Serious and bold change is needed’

Plus, the rest of our weekly briefing

Good afternoon readers — and welcome to this week’s briefing.

Today’s newsletter looks at some big changes that are going to be happening to the bus system in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. We also have some good news about the future of The Tribune and all our usual reads and recommendations.

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The Tribune making news

We’ve had some great press coverage in the last week. My piece about why I left my previous job at the Star was picked up by regional news site Hold the Front Page. And Press Gazette reported that our sister site The Mill had been chosen as a winner of a new grant fund for sustainable local journalism by Substack, the platform we’re hosted on. The funding will help us to get The Tribune off the ground and is a huge vote of confidence in our approach.

We are still on the lookout for talented local journalists who believe in our mission and want to write for The Tribune. If that’s you, please hit reply and say hello.

Can you help?

Following on from last week’s briefing, The Tribune is looking for someone who can provide some insight into what’s going on inside Sheffield’s very hot housing market. If you’re house hunting at the moment or if you work for an estate agency, we’d love to hear from you. Please hit reply to this newsletter or email editor@sheffieldtribune.co.uk.

The big story: All change for city’s bus system?

Top line: Major changes to South Yorkshire’s bus system are planned after years of deregulation and underfunding have left the system ‘not fit for purpose’. 

Background: In 2019, Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts’ was asked to conduct a wide-ranging review of the bus system in the region. The report was published last June.

  • The review found problems with frequency, reliability, connectivity, quality, accessibility, complicated ticketing and frequent service changes.

  • It put these problems down to ‘woefully inadequate’ funding, a lack of leadership and a lack of accountability.

The report recommended that a series of changes be made to the bus system in the region over the next five years. The pandemic has delayed many of the recommendations but progress has been made on fares for younger people and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) has been brought under the Mayor’s control. A regional leader to promote buses has yet to be identified, however.

New funding: Betts’ report found that the amount of funding for buses per head in London was £76 per year compared to just £5 in Sheffield. It also stated SYPTE’s budget fell by 40% from 2010-2020. The Mayor and combined authority leaders will today announce a Sheffield City Region bid for £50m from the Government’s much-vaunted ‘levelling up’ fund to regenerate northern England.

  • The money would be used to improve shelters across the region, including with more live information displays.

  • It would also roll out contactless payment across the network and pay for road improvements in traffic hotspots to make bus journeys faster and more reliable.

Fare row: An attempt last week to hike fares on TravelMaster multi-use tickets by 5% was roundly slammed, with many pointing out the same companies levying the increase had received millions of pounds in support from the taxpayer during Covid. The firms later agreed to ‘postpone’ the increases but Clive Betts told The Tribune the episode merely illustrated why change was so desperately needed.

The review of South Yorkshire buses I conducted demonstrates the failings of the current bus system, and this cash grab from bus companies only reinforces the conclusions from that report. Serious and bold change is needed to provide a service that acts as the backbone to our public transport system.

What about franchising? Greater Manchester just announced it will bring their bus system back under public control using a franchising system. However, Mayor Dan Jarvis has said those advocating a similar system for South Yorkshire will have to be patient. He points out that it took Andy Burnham several years to undertake the planning and consultations required.

Insight: Because bus services have been privatised (or ‘deregulated’ according to the language used by officials) for so long, changing the system is fraught with difficulty. Greater Manchester spent years jumping through various legal loops to make sure its adoption of a franchise system couldn’t be overturned in the courts. Any slip-up allows bus companies to challenge the move.

What happens next? As expected, Sheffield City Region leaders have today decided that an ‘enhanced partnership’ with the bus companies will be trialled before they look at a franchising system. In the longer term (5 years plus), the review recommended that the region should consider creating a municipal bus company as has been done successfully in Nottingham and Reading.

This week’s weather

Covid-19 update

Cases: Sheffield’s case rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over 7 days — continues to fall sharply. The city’s rate is just 23.8 or 139 cases, a fall of 25% from last week. England’s case rate currently stands at 37.4, above Sheffield’s for the first time in months.

Hospitals: 7 people are now being treated in Sheffield hospitals for Covid-19, a fall of one from last week. Two of these patients are still on ventilation, the same number as last week. The last two deaths in the city linked to the virus took place on May 12.

Vaccines: 527,704 vaccine doses have now been administered in Sheffield, including 320,867 first doses and 206,837 second doses. More than 90% of everyone over 50 has now had their first dose. The city’s second large scale vaccination centre will open at the University of Sheffield’s Octagon Centre this Wednesday.

Book of the week

Long Way Home by Dan Jarvis

In a previous life, Barnsley Central MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis was an officer in the parachute regiment who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later, after his army career was over and his political career was just beginning, his wife Caroline died from cancer at the age of 43.

Jarvis is often accused of being too guarded and professional as a politician. In Long Way Home we see something that looks more like the real him. It is a moving account of the sacrifice of service and the role of pain and grief in his life.

Long Way Home is now out in paperback and can be bought here.

Our favourite reads

  1. Matthew Topham of public ownership campaign group We Own It has written for Now Then magazine about why franchising is the only way forward for our bus system. He argues the proposed “partnership” system is just ‘more of the same but with added horse trading’. 

  2. The Yorkshire Post report that a former grocers’ warehouse in Kelham Island is to be transformed into 40 apartments. As The Tribune reported in April, repurposing old buildings for new residential and commercial uses is seen by many as a better and more sustainable solution than demolition.

  3. A good investigation by Star reporter Lloyd Bent into council executive member Mazher Iqbal’s alleged misconduct over development projects in the city centre. Councillor Iqbal ‘robustly denies’ the allegations but has been ‘stepped down’ from his role while the investigation is carried out.

  4. The Guardian reports that families of those who died at Hillsborough are to be given compensation for the way police smeared fans after the 1989 disaster. Lawyers acting for the relatives have described the scandal as “one of the largest and most shameful cover-ups by a police force in history”.

  5. Environment publication Inkcap Journal have been investigating how English councils manage their roadside verges. The regularity with which Sheffield City Council are mowing them has been criticised recently, with executive member for roads Paul Wood saying they’re investigating ‘alternative options’.

Sign of the times

Sheffield academic and friend of The Tribune Tom Hunt posted an appeal for a museum to adopt the historic Woollens sign on Love Street in Sheffield city centre. He says the building is ‘days away’ from coming down and is worried the sign could be lost forever if someone doesn't come forward.

The sign, which used to be lit up in neon, would make a ‘great addition’ to Kelham Island Museum’s collection, he says. As of Monday morning, however, the sign remained unclaimed. A company related to the original firm still exists and is now based in Tinsley. Urban explorers took a look inside their old base in 2018.

If you could find a home for the sign or know someone who could, please reply to this briefing, email editor@sheffieldtribune.co.uk or contact Tom on Twitter.

Things to do

Listen: BBC Radio Sheffield reporter Xanthe Palmer suffers from dyspraxia and has made a documentary about living with the often misunderstood condition. The hour-long programme can be downloaded here and she’s also written a piece for the BBC website.

Learn: Creswell Crags near Worksop is the subject of the next Sheffield Museums online talk on Facebook on Wednesday, June 9 at 1pm. During the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, the celebrated site was home to tribes of early humans as well as megafauna such as woolly mammoths.

Art: A bit further afield but The Hepworth Wakefield is now back open with a major exhibition of the late sculptor and painter’s work to celebrate the gallery’s 10th birthday. The show is spread around all 10 rooms at the gallery and is the largest collection of Hepworth’s work since she died in 1975.

Watch: Doc/Fest finishes next Sunday and as well as the in person screenings and arts shows, a staggering number of docs are available to watch at home. Video on demand site Vodzilla has put together an indispensable guide to what’s on when. The Guardian have also selected their favourites.

Visit: Shepherd Wheel Workshop in the Porter Brook valley opened again on Saturday. The workshop is a unique working example of Sheffield’s historic knife grinding industry and shows how water drove the machinery which powered the city’s manufacturing. Entry is free and there is no need to book.

Sheffield on social media 

We thought we’d add a couple of recommendations for great Sheffield Twitter accounts to the end of this week’s newsletter. There are loads of great historic and modern photos of the city on Twitter, with two of the best being @screwloose1980 and @lewiscainphoto. If you have a Sheffield account you love following, please let us know.

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If you have a story you would like us to look into, hit reply to this briefing or email editor@sheffieldtribune.co.uk.

We are looking for talented local journalists who believe in our mission and want to write for The Tribune. If that’s you, please email us at the email address above.

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