A group of London borough councils want to take back control of local bus services as part of a wider bid for devolved powers.
Croydon, Merton, Richmond upon Thames, and Sutton LBCs, and Kingston upon Thames RBC would also like to take on the role of jobcentres and follow in the footsteps of pilot projects in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Greater Manchester and Cheshire East and retain 100% business rates growth.
The five London boroughs are part of the South London Partnership and they have just formed a joint committee with decision-making powers. It is made up of the leaders of all five councils - two Conservatives (Kingston and Richmond), two Labour (Croydon and Merton), and one Liberal Democrat (Sutton).
LGC reported in April how the Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson, and Jules Pipe, the Labour mayor of Hackney LBC and chair of London Councils, were working together to lay the foundations for further devolution to the city and ‘groupings’ of boroughs.
In committee papers outlining the South London Partnership joint committee’s role and purpose, it said it was charged with “setting and reviewing” objectives in relation to “strategic growth, regeneration and investment across south London”. It will also act as a “single position” on “city deal and growth deal issues”, the papers said.
Merton’s leader Stephen Alambritis (Lab), who is chair of the joint committee, told LGC no specific powers over services had been transferred as yet but added the structure, which has been formally approved by all member councils, allowed them to “take advantage of any devolved decision-making powers that are released” by central government and the mayor of London.
Cllr Alambritis said the partnership was “hungry”, “ambitious”, and “ready to pounce on anything that could be coming from the Treasury”.
He said while member councils got on “very well” with Transport for London they believed “local control of bus routes is important”.
When asked how realistic he thought that ask was, Cllr Alambritis said members wanted to test “any comfort zone” and challenge the notion that London already had devolution at the mayor of London level. “We want to nudge that and see how far we can go,” he said.
The partnership believes it could create more than 500,000 new jobs by 2036. Cllr Alambritis said members wanted to either “work with or in place of” jobcentres as “we believe we can do that job of finding people work as local authorities have greater sensitivities to employers in their area and the jobs they want to be filled”.
He added members would “love” to retain 100% of business rates growth initially but with a view to retaining all business rates take in the future.
The partnership claims it could build 20,000 new homes if it could access funding more easily and borrowing restrictions were removed.
Cllr Alambritis said meetings with chancellor George Osborne, Mr Johnson, London Councils, and other “opinion formers”, were now being set up to discuss the partnership’s demands.