Discover more from The Mill
How bad is the funding crisis at Metrolink?
Plus, an outpouring of feeling from readers about our weekend read
Dear Millers — today’s briefing takes a look at the future of Metrolink after its latest round of government support ran out at the weekend, but first: a warm welcome to the many new readers who have joined us after reading Dani’s moving piece, “A death unseen”, about the lonely demise and sparsely-attended burial of Anthony ‘Tony’ Doran. The story has had a huge response and really seems to have struck a chord with people.
Here are some of the reactions so far:
“Another beautiful, exemplary piece of journalism” - Paula
“A moving article about the death of a 'nobody' who would, presumably, once have been a somebody to family and friends in years gone by” - Louise
“This is what local journalism ought to be” - Connor
“A touching article, resonating with our own individual and yet universal experiences of grief” - Cassie
In the story’s comments, A Mill member called Elaine wrote:
Before retirement I used to work as an advice worker for a mental health charity. It was not uncommon to find that my clients were totally isolated, having lost touch or broken off relationships with friends or family members. It would be great if we could form a 'club' [for want of a better word] of people who would be willing to attend funerals in such cases, and who would be prepared to give their contact details to the local authority.
As it happens, Hayley Cartwright (the celebrant who did Tony Doran’s funeral and is quoted in Dani’s story) has a local authority funeral tomorrow morning at Southern Cemetery. It’s for Leonard Dixon, who was also known as Tony and who died aged 62 at his home in Openshaw. “There was no one to inform which means that the local authority and GMP couldn't find any family members,” she writes. “If you're available to attend, I'll be at the main gates (Barlow Moor Road) at 10.15 and we'll go to the plot together,” she tweeted yesterday.
Attend a funeral: Inspired by the response to the article, Hayley has also created a Facebook group to inform people about when she is doing public health funerals — if you would like to attend one of them, join the group here. “I will post in here each time I am booked for a local authority funeral service,” she says. “They usually take place at Southern Cemetery or Crem on Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton or they are at the Crem in Blackley, Manchester.”
We hope this kind of journalism, which draws attention to people who are living on the edges of society and galvanises readers to take action, is something you want to read more of and help us to grow. If so, and you’re not a Mill member yet, please do join up using the button below — it costs £7 a month and you will get two extra editions from us every week.
This week’s weather
Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says the weather will “turn colder and more unsettled” towards the end of the week.
Tuesday ☁️ Mostly dry but it will be cloudy for large parts of the day with the occasional bright period. Light winds. Max 14°c.
Wednesday 🌧 Dry to start but showery rain will slowly edge in from the west later. Relatively mild. Max 14°c.
Thursday 🌦 Another dry start but there will be an increased risk of rain during the afternoon. Turning breezy. Max 13°c.
Friday 🌦 Windy with sunshine and heavy showers. Feeling colder. Max 12°c.
Weekend 🌧 Remaining chilly with windy conditions and showers/ longer spells of rain.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
A big moment
We are literally 99% of the way to reaching 1,500 members, a target we’ve been hunting down for months now. Coincidentally (or is it??) we’re also 99% of the way to our other target: reaching 25,000 Millers on our free email list. To celebrate this momentous occasion we spent half the morning making this rather rudimentary graphic.
Here’s how you can help:
Join up as a member for just £7 a month — we just need 12 more to hit 1,500, a massive milestone on our way to having a fully-funded team of writers and editors in our office on St Ann’s Square.
Forward this email to a few friends or colleagues and encourage them to join our email list — we need 139 more Millers on the list to get to 25,000.
If you’re a designer who can help us make better graphics in much less time, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, Mill members will get a piece by Dani, following up on her weekend read about Tony Doran. They will also receive a great photo essay from Rochdale, speaking to residents there about their lives and the cost of living. If you’d like to get those stories — plus full access to our archive — just hit that button below.
The big story: How bad is the funding crisis at Metrolink?
Top line: Metrolink is in a precarious financial position. Its latest round of government support ran out on the weekend and there’s talk of dipping into Greater Manchester’s emergency reserves to keep the trams running.
State of play: Local leaders are trying to persuade the Department for Transport to stump up more cash to fund shortfalls created by passenger numbers not returning to pre-pandemic levels. Officials have told The Mill they are confident of finding the funding, but there’s no doubt this situation is a major headache for Andy Burnham and Transport for Greater Manchester.
Context: Before the pandemic, Metrolink operated without regular subsidy because its ticket revenues covered the network’s costs. But lockdowns meant passenger numbers dropped as low as 5% of pre-pandemic levels, and the government had to step in to keep services operating.
According to TfGM’s latest report, passenger numbers have now “plateaued” between 70-75% of pre-pandemic levels. This is likely a hangover from the pandemic; Metrolink serves a higher proportion of white-collar workers who have the option to work from home and many of whom are no longer coming to the office five days a week. “Metrolink is very popular — and it's used by people who wouldn't use the buses,” says one official at the combined authority.
Big bailouts: Metrolink received a grant of £124 million from March 2020 to April 2022, and another £20.5 million cheque that ran out yesterday.
The current situation is similar to the one when that first £124 million grant ran out. Back then, Metrolink’s director Danny Vaughan said the service would have had to consider price rises and service cuts if they didn’t receive more support.
It’s thought that the new government is planning public spending cuts and might be less amenable to this kind of transport spending than Boris Johnson was.
Metrolink has hinted at having to dip into the GMCA’s reserves to keep the service running.
Crucially, Metrolink has borrowed hundreds of millions of pounds — £775m to be precise — and those loans were made on the basis of future ticket revenues that are now going to be difficult to achieve. We’ve been told that to date no payments have been missed.
Not there yet: The cash reserves won’t be needed yet, says TfGM’s director of strategy Simon Warburton. When we got hold of him on Friday, he said: “Like any other good organisation we've got a cash budget through the year. It's only when we get to the end of the year that you need to look as to whether any use of reserves is needed.”
So, to be clear: Metrolink can run without government subsidy until the end of the year, but after that things might become tricky and GMCA’s reserves might be needed. But TfGM doesn’t think that will come to pass, as they intend to have a new support package agreed by then.
We understand that officials are eager to bring talks with the government to a conclusion. They want a three-year plan of funding to stabilise the service and give it time to “build its way out” of needing public subsidy.
The key variables: Whether reserves need to be used depends on two things:
How passenger numbers look over the Christmas period.
And how the current talks with the government pan out.
TfGM seems confident on both fronts. The Christmas markets are likely to give numbers a big boost, and Warburton says government talks have steered clear of subjects like price hikes and service cuts: “I think we're confident that we're all on the same page in that regard.”
The politics of this are interesting too. Andy Burnham’s dream of having a London-style integrated public transport system in Greater Manchester is predicated on buses and cycling paths linking up with Metrolink. If tram services have to be cut back, that will deal a major blow to the mayor’s vision for growing the economy and bringing local transport into the 21st century.
Know more about this story? Get in touch with email@example.com.
Home of the week
This spacious three-bedroom house in Timperley has lovely fireplaces and two rooms in the cellar. It’s on the market for £500,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Former nurse Lucy Letby has denied the murder of seven babies between 2015 to 2016. She is accused of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder another 10. The trial at Manchester Crown Court is expected to last for six months, and Letby’s alleged victims will be referred to as babies A to Q. It is alleged two babies — Child F and Child L — were “poisoned” by Letby “deliberately with insulin”, reports Sky News. Nick Johnson KC, of the prosecution, said that Letby was a “constant malevolent presence”. Letby denies all charges and the trial continues.
The newly-branded Piccadilly East was included in the Sunday Times' ten best new-build neighbourhoods. The paper lauded the "pioneering ambition" of Capital & Centric, the developer behind the neighbourhood's transformation. You may remember C&C's co-founder, Tim Heatley, in the BBC’s "Manctopia" documentary. Back then, he was spending about £2m a week to get the development over the line, which looks like it has paid off. Not everyone is a fan of the changes in the area, of course, with some pointing out that lots of artists’ studios have been lost during the area’s redevelopment. “Want to see the worst and most cringe attempt at gentrification?” one nearby resident tweeted recently. “Capital & Centric are sticker bombing Ardwick & New Islington trying to rebrand it as Piccadilly East.”
Matt Wynne — a councillor in Stockport — resigned from the Labour Party at a full council meeting last Thursday. As Mill readers were first to read, Wynne was prevented from standing in next year's all-out elections by what he describes as a "hard-left cult led by the local MP" Navendu Mishra. He was asked a question about his de facto deselection by an Edgeley resident, and after lamenting the "purge" of other councillors across the Stockport Labour party, Wynne said: "take this answer as a resignation, thank you."
LadBible, the Manchester-based online media empire that started out as a cringey lad-culture Facebook page, is set to sack 10% of its staff after a drop in share price. Staff were told the redundancies were intended to "put ourselves (LadBible Group Limited) in a better position when markets have settled and economic growth returns”.
Oldham looks set to host the UK's biggest urban farm. Spanning 130 acres, the Northern Roots development will be considered at a planning meeting this Wednesday. Using funding from Oldham's £25m Town Deal, the scheme will include a 7,750 sq ft visitor centre, an events centre and a 93,000 sq ft array of solar panels.
And finally, if you're struggling with the ongoing energy crisis, have you considered simply being a hot-blooded male? That would appear to be the advice of Tory MP for Cheshire Graham Evans, who told BBC North West "Personally, I'm a hot-blooded male, females in my house like to have the heating on, try and keep the heating down as much as humanly possible." We'll leave you with that.
Our favourite reads
‘I’d picked just about the worst possible time to buy a house’ — The Sunday Times
In this story (that will likely feel familiar to a few readers) Hannah Al-Othman describes her journey of buying a house in Levenshulme just as the government’s mini-budget was announced. “I’d booked a viewing on a two-bedroom terraced house in Levenshulme, south Manchester, the day Liz Truss was named as prime minister.”
The watcher of Hilbre Island — The Post
We loved this piece from our sister site in Liverpool, which transported us to a quiet island off the coast of West Kirby. It focuses on Chris Williams, who spends his days watching the waters and rocks from the island’s observatory. “The sun has been falling on the rocks like a blacksmith’s hammer and the red sandstone is warm to touch. Bobbing in the water are a dozen North Atlantic seals who look like slippery, grey bald men with eyes as black as cherries,” Jack Dulhanty writes.
In My Own Words — Streets Apart project
Photographer Ciara Leeming took a group of people with experience of homelessness on several photowalks along King Street in Wigan to create a zine. The result is a compelling collection of photographs and memories of the people who took part. “I was seriously underage then but was working in bars in Plymouth soon after. Underage there too – but nobody cared about ‘underage’ in the 70s,” said one participant.
Things to do
📚 ‘Rooms of Our Own’ is an exhibition that reveals the “herstory” of the Pankhurst Trust, and will explore the story of women’s activism and how the Pankhurst Centre faced the threat of demolition in the 1970s. It’s on at Manchester Central Library. Info here.
💐 The stage adaptation of The Colour Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, is on at the Lowry Theatre. It follows the story of Celie, who was abused as a child. The score draws on jazz, ragtime, plus gospel and blues music. Starts 7.30pm. Book here.
🎶 Manchester Folk Festival (they want to recreate the spirit of a festival in a field minus the chemical toilets and mud) is back this year, and takes place across Manchester city centre. Take a look at the lineup here and book here.
📸 There’s a photography exhibition at Central Libary from The Sex Pistols’ gig in 1976 at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, which was attended by less than 50 people. Info here.
🍻 Platt Fields Park will be the home of Manchester Oktoberfest. As well as the usual fare of beer and traditional food, they’re promising “the most incendiary songs for your mood” — tempted? Runs from the 13th to 16th October. Book here.
🎻 Manchester Baroque is kicking off its first full programme of concerts, starting with ‘Music is Bach’ at St Ann’s Church on Saturday. For organised Millers, put December 10 in your diaries for Handel’s Messiah. Book here.