Podcast: Now we are one

Mmmm. Cake. Image: Getty.

This week marks our birthday: Skylines is a whole year old. I've done thirty episodes of this stuff now.

Aaaaanyway: to mark this momentous occasion, I decided to invite two people who've been key to the success of Skylines back, to talk about whatever weird stuff they wanted to. First up, one time co-host Barbara Speed is back, to tell us about her long-time obsession with Greggs.

Yes, the “popular high street bakery chain”.

No, really, that's what we're talk about. I mean, we talk a bit about what the success of the chain tells us about the British High Street, but for the most part, we're just talking about Greggs, and why Barbara is obsessed with it.

If you want to know more, she wrote about this map of the chain’s 1,600 odd branches back in December 2015:

Then, a man without whom we wouldn't be here at all – our erstwhile producer, Roifield Brown, who was responsible for giving me the push I needed to start a podcast in the first place – pops by to tell us about his own obsession.

In his case, it's the failings and future of his home town, England's second city, Birmingham. (I wrote a lot about Birmingham, and the wider West Midlands, in this series last year.)

Thanks to Barbara, Roifield and Stephanie, and to all the other people who've deigned to come and talk nonsense into a microphone with me over the last year. And, y'know, thanks for listening, to it, too.

Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

You can find out more at its website.




Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.