Podcast: The One With The Special Mystery Guest

The Tees Valley. Image: Getty.

I’m very excited about this week’s guest – so excited that one point this was going to be the Christmas special, but I got too excited to wait. I’ve even pitched this guest’s identity as a mystery at the start of the show, so in an ideal world I wouldn’t even name them here at all. But that’d be terrible SEO, so I’m going to get on with it and just hope that nobody actually bothers to read this thing. So:

This week’s guest is Sue Jeffrey, the leader of Redcar & Cleveland council, and Labour’s candidate to be mayor of the Tees Valley. Sue was, tragically, unsuccessful in that race, losing 49/51 in the final round to the Conservative Ben Houchen. This result caused much consternation in the New Statesman office, and on this podcast – so much so, that it’s still an election that people reference to Stephen Bush and myself.

Anyway: having accidentally turned Sue into a meme, I decided it was time to actually interview her. From her office in Redcar, she explained to me why devolution matters to regions like her own; why heavy industry needs more attention from central government; and what can be done to boost the economy of regions like the Tees Valley.

Incidentally, meeting Sue took me on a day out that involved six trains and visiting two cities I’d never been to before (Middlesbrough and York). This was fun, obviously, and I’m gradually trying to get to all of the cities in the Centre for Cities database, and have only done around half – so if you’re in one of the others, why not invite me to a thing?

Can’t blame a boy for trying.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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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.