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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Beth Abbit

The Mancunian Way: ‘Exploiting a loophole’

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Here's the Mancunian Way for today:


With temperatures set to plummet this week, the plight of our city’s rough sleepers comes into sharp focus.

It’s at this time of year - as we button up our coats that bit tighter - that the homeless people who populate the city centre, our towns and suburbs become that bit more visible. And it’s certainly the busiest time of year for the charities that work to help those most in need.

We’ll be discussing what's happening to help the homeless population in today’s newsletter. We’ll also be looking at the ‘loophole‘ allowing one rail company to go without officially recording more than 1,000 train cancellations and changes. Let’s begin.

'Exceptionally challenging'

For the first time in five years, Greater Manchester leaders admit their ability to reduce rough sleeping is ‘stalling’ as a direct consequence of the cost of living crisis.

It’s estimated that 43 homeless people died in the region last year, compared to 33 the previous year. Andy Burnham calls that a 'profound tragedy' and recently announced an additional 86 beds through the A Bed Every Night scheme.

A rough sleeper in Manchester city centre (Gary Oakley/Manchester Evening News)

That scheme - which costs £6m a year to run - was launched in 2018 when there were around 250 people sleeping rough in the region. It’s been credited with bringing the number of rough sleepers down to double digits.

But, as Joseph Timan reports, the latest count revealed 90 rough sleepers in October, prompting Salford mayor Paul Dennett to describe the situation as 'exceptionally challenging'.

Meanwhile, more than 250 employed people have been referred to the emergency accommodation scheme since the start of the year. And the numbers of those sleeping rough for the first time is also rising, with ABEN currently accommodating 732 people.

When the mayor first pledged to bring an end to rough sleeping here, he looked to Finland for inspiration. It was hoped methods used in Helsinki could work here too.

A Housing First pilot project, which aims to rehouse and support people who are homeless or at the risk of being homeless, was extended by another year back in May as part of a £37.1m package of government grants.

But local leaders say the government must do more to prevent homelessness. They want Local Housing Allowance rates increased, a cap on rent in the private rented sector and funding to freeze social housing rents.

A rough sleeper in Manchester city centre (Gary Oakley/Manchester Evening News)

Mr Burnham admits ABEN had its problems in the early days as a ‘very basic, very dormitory based’ scheme was rolled out rapidly. But since Covid, when the government funded rooms for each rough sleeper, almost all ABEN accommodation offers single rooms.

There is also a women-only site and a scheme for LGBT+ individuals. Non-UK nationals and people with No Recourse to Public Funds are also accommodated.

Mr Burnham is confident the scheme will be able to offer everybody who needs it somewhere to go this winter but says: "To get to the level of commitment that we're making, that money is needed.”

He’s asking people to donate to the Greater Manchester Mayor's Charity or Real Change MCR - which gives grants directly to homeless people.

TPE ‘exploiting loophole' on train cancellations

"The absolute bare minimum of levelling up means being able to get to work and college on time - but northerners have been robbed of this basic right because of the chaos on our railways.”

That was the recent message from northern mayors after meeting the Transport Secretary and asking for Avanti, TransPennine Express and Northern to be put on notice to improve.

Now it’s emerged that in just over a month, more than 1,000 trains operated by TransPennine Express have been cancelled or changed overnight - but they won't appear in official performance figures.

That’s because they were made before 10pm the previous day, prompting claims the company is 'exploiting a loophole' in the reporting system.

Richard Ault, of Reach’s data unit, has been looking into the figures and has discovered that between November 2 and Monday December 5, TPE cancelled 887 trains on the day or evening before each service was due to run, in addition to cancellations made on the day. The Manchester to Cleethorpes line has seen the most disruption, with 193 overnight train cancellations in the last month. That is followed by the Manchester to Hull line (161).

The most cancelled train has been the 05.54 service from Huddersfield to Manchester Piccadilly, leaving passengers scrabbling to find an alternative on 12 occasions between November 2 and December 5.

The late night 23.39 Manchester Airport to York service has been cancelled overnight on ten occasions.

Current rules allow companies to ignore trains that were preemptively cancelled up to 10pm the previous night. They are known as ‘p-coded services’ and do not count towards official figures submitted to the Office of Rail and Road or allow automatic 'delay repay' claims.

The loophole was first reported on by the Guardian's North of England editor Helen Pidd and, as such, the UK Statistics Authority is now looking into the issue.

Bruce Williamson, of passenger group Railfuture, said it looks as though TransPennine are ‘exploiting a loophole on this’. “Last-minute cancellations should be included in performance targets,” he said.

TPE says it currently has more than 570 train drivers and aims to have 30 more qualified by next March. It says cancellations have been down to sickness, a training backlog caused by the pandemic, ongoing issues with infrastructure and industrial action. The company cancellations have reduced in recent weeks and apologised to those affected.

Winter walkouts

Meanwhile, the RMT union has announced further rail strikes from Christmas Eve.

Members will go ahead as planned with walkouts on December 13-14 and 16-17. The union will also tell members not to work from 6pm on December 24 until 6am on December 27.

That’s set to hit Christmas Eve commuters hard - but RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said ‘we’ve got no choice’ as a bitter row over pay and conditions rumbles on.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) (PA)

‘The fight of our lives’

Rail staff aren’t the only ones planning winter walkouts.

Thousands of ambulance workers - including those from the North West Ambulance Service - and other NHS staff will strike on December 21.

GMB, Unison and Unite are all co-ordinating industrial action across England and Wales after accusing the Government of ignoring pleas for a decent wage rise.

The strike will happen a day after members of the Royal College of Nursing stage their second walkout, also over pay.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said workers are ‘now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself’.

“These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this government,” she said. “Patients’ lives are already at risk but this government is sitting on the sidelines, dodging its responsibility to sort out the crisis that it has created.”

Pay hike for new deputy mayor

The new deputy mayor will get a £5,000 pay increase when she takes over in the new year.

Kate Green will take over from Baroness Beverley Hughes when she steps down from the full-time role on January 9.

Outgoing Stretford and Urmston MP Ms Green will be paid £89,900 a year, bringing the role in line with the salary of other police and crime commissioners who also have responsibility for fire.

Outgoing deputy mayor Bev Hughes, mayor Andy Burnham and incoming deputy mayor Kate Green (GMCA)

Councillors on the police, fire and crime panel approved the appointment at a meeting on Monday. Mayor Andy Burnham, who recommended Ms Green, told the panel there is a 'very small pool of people' who meet the role's requirements.

The former MP said she agrees with the Greater Manchester Police chief constable's 'back to basics' approach and the force’s progress must continue.

She said some people deserve 'special protection' from emergency services, such as vulnerable young people and ethnic groups who 'no doubt' face disparities.

Weather etc

  • Wednesday: Partly cloudy changing to sunny intervals by late morning. 4C.
  • Road closures: A560 Stockport Road in both directions closed due to water main work between A627 Dowson Road and Hill Street. Source:Council until December 8.
  • A6051 Chapel Road in both directions closed due to water main work between A670 Oldham Road (Uppermill) and A669 Chew Valley Road (Greenfield) until December 7.
  • Trains: Special timetable operating on Transpennine Express and Avanti West Coast due to shortage of train crews. Passengers are advised to check their journey in advance. Trains that do run are expected to be very busy.
  • Trivia question: Kate Green will take over from Baroness Bev Hughes as Deputy Mayor in January, but what was the last shadow minister position she held for Labour?

Manchester headlines

  • Devastated: The family of a man whose remains were discovered following a mill fire in Oldham have paid tribute to him. Cuong Van Chu was one of four Vietnamese men whose partial remains were recovered from the Bismark House Mill on Bower Street. A blaze tore through the derelict mill on May 7, before demolition workers uncovered human remains on July 23. Cuong's family said they are ‘devastated at his tragic death in the most terrible circumstances’ and are wanting to have him returned home to family in Vietnam.

  • Donations: People in Manchester are the most generous in the UK when it comes to donating money, according to data from GoFundMe. Despite the soaring cost of living, Mancunians donated the most money to the fundraising site in 2022 for the second year in a row, having also been crowned in 2021. People living in Salford were the second most generous when it came to contributing to fundraising pages, figures released to the PA News Agency show.

  • Maya: A new multi-level restaurant and bar concept will open in Manchester's Gay Village next year. Maya will be situated within 40 Chorlton Street, in the same building as Leven - a loft aparthotel. Maya will take part of the ground and lower floors with a canal-side brasserie space serving modern-European classics and a lower-ground dining room that will centre around an ingredient-led, locally sourced and seasonal menu.

Worth a read

Hidden away on an industrial estate in Wythenshawe, coffee and brunch spot The Mess helps refugees, the homeless, those who struggle with addiction and the long-term unemployed. It also provides training and employment to ex-offenders, those at risk of offending, as well as those who find that they have significant barriers to employment and need a helping hand.

It’s a vehicle for change at a time when so many are struggling.

What’s On Editor Jenna Campbell has been speaking to manager Sam Hawthorne about this very special community cafe.

Joe and the kitchen team at The Mess Cafe (Manchester Evening News)

That's all for today

Thanks for joining me. If you have stories you would like us to look into, email

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The answer to today's trivia question is: Shadow Secretary of State for Education from 2020 to 2021.

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