London boroughs should be allowed to set up combined authorities, the Society of London Treasurers has said.
A report by the group – Capitalising on the Boroughs – said new forms of governance would be required in London to implement the type of greater fiscal devolution that was being widely discussed following the Scottish referendum.
But local government minister Kris Hopkins has questioned the proposal, saying an additional tier of governance ‘does not make sense’ for the capital.
Report author Chris Naylor, chief operating officer and director of finance at Barnet LBC, told LGC: “It’s almost as if the policy zeitgeist is that we have sorted governance out in London and if you are in Manchester, what you want is what London has got.
“That is understandable, in a way. But that assumes that the combined authority in London is the Greater London Authority.
“The point we are making is that if you look at growth opportunities and the governance of those opportunities, someone is borrowing some money, investing that money and managing the returns.
“There are only two levels of authority in London at present that can do that, which are the GLA or an individual London borough.
“This implies that the opportunities are only at the whole of London level, or they exist within the boundaries of an individual London borough. Our report is saying that there are some instances where that opportunity will exist on a cross-borough basis.”
An example, said Mr Naylor, would have been if the Brent Cross shopping centre had been located on a cross-borough site, requiring different boroughs to act together on site development, transport and regeneration.
He added that the speed at which discussions were taking place on fiscal devolution made it urgent to resolve the issue of combined authority arrangements in London.
However, local government minister Kris Hopkins said he disagreed with the approach.
“The government is supportive of more joint working across London boroughs, especially after such locally led successes such as the tri-borough initiative,” he said.
“London already has an upper tier of local government in the form of the Greater London Authority, so inserting an additional combined authority tier does not make sense.
“But we are open to representations on how the likes of boroughs, London Councils and the GLA, and indeed other London public services, can better work together to save money and improve frontline services.”
The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 allows the communities secretary to approve combined authorities where councils believe they will facilitate joint working on such matters as transport, regeneration and economic development. However, the legislation excludes London.
Combined authorities have been set up in the north-east, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.