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Devolution bill in first Queen's speech

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Legislation to allow the devolution of power to cities will be included in the first Queen’s speech of the parliament, chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce today.

The chancellor and first secretary of state will use his first speech since the Conservative’s election victory to announce plans for a cities devolution bill.

However, the granting of additional powers will be conditional on areas following the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and adopting an elected mayor.

Mr Osborne is expected to say powers over transport, housing, skills and healthcare will only be available if cities adopt his “radical new model of government”.

“It’s right people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes the decision and carries the can. I will not impose this model on anyone but nor will I settle for anything less.”

City regions that have formed combined authorities, including West Yorkshire, Sheffield and Merseyside have so far resisted the imposition of an elected mayor. More than half of respondents to LGC’s recent confidence survey said they were opposed to the idea, with many citing fears about concentrating too much power in the hands of one individual. Others said it would not be appropriate for their combined authority area as the population did not have a shared identity.

This was one of the issues in West Yorkshire where last year leaders dropped their demands for fiscal devolution rather than adopt the model. As a result the devolution deal they eventually agreed with the Treasury involved the transfer of fewer powers than seen in Greater Manchester.

However, the change in government and Mr Osborne’s apparent insistence may cause some areas to think again. New communities secretary Greg Clark is also a big fan of elected mayors, saying they have the “greatest potential of any leadership model”.

The speech comes as the Core Cities group were meeting in London today to call on the government to devolve more powers to them and for cities to be able to retain the proceeds from selected taxes, including property taxes and a percentage of income tax.

Mr Osborne is also expected to announce that the Treasury’s spending review for later this year will confirm a series of major investments in northern infrastructure, including high speed rail and a new £235m research institute in Manchester.

He will also set out plans to create a number of new enterprise zones and city deals within the first 100 days of the new parliament.

In his speech in Manchester this afternoon he will say: “Greater Manchester has agreed to have a mayor as part of our Northern Powerhouse - and this new law will make that happen. My door now is open to any other major city who‎ wants to take this bold step into the future.

“This is a revolution in the way we govern England. It’s power to the working people of our country. And it means a stronger democracy and greater prosperity for all.”

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