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Pickles' welfare hint for mayors

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Communities secretary Eric Pickles has indicated that directly elected city mayors will be given control over welfare budgets as part of plans to create “home rule for cities”.

Delivering his speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on Sunday afternoon, Mr Pickles, left, said a “new generation of city mayors” would be given the opportunity to pool a range of devolved budgets along with those of “welfare to work” schemes.

A release published by the party alongside Mr Pickles’ speech said: “We are putting in place national welfare-to-work and offender-rehabilitation schemes, operating on a payment-by-results basis,” it said. “We will create the opportunity for Mayors to bring together different devolved budgets and pool them with our national payment-by-results systems.”

The Department for Work & Pensions has been accused of failing to engage with the devolution agenda. Control over welfare budgets for city mayors would represent a significant concession on the part of Iain Duncan Smith’s department.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to give the 12 largest metropolitan councils in England the opportunity to create elected mayors. However, the policy has not found favour with city leaders and recent reports in the national press had suggested Mr Pickles was preparing to oppose the policy.

Responding to the proposals at a conference event at which Mr Pickles spoke, Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby (Con), right, refused to endorse or oppose the creation of directly elected city mayors.

“A lot of people have asked me if I’d stand for mayor should the post become available and I always tell them we need to wait and see what happens,” he said.

“However, I share David Cameron’s aspiration to have strong, accountable city leadership and I believe localising power can help cities add to the UK growth agenda.”

Mr Pickles also used his speech to warn council chief executives it was “their turn” to take a pay cut.

“The prime minister’s taken a pay cut, I’ve taken a pay cut, so I say to my chums who are council chief executives, it’s your turn now,” he said.

“Trust me you’ll feel better for it, you’ll be able to look your council workers in the eye.”

Mr Pickles suggested anyone earning more than £150,000 could take a 5% pay cut and anyone on a salary above £200,000 could take a 10% cut. No new council chiefs should be appointed on a salary above that of the prime ministers, he added.

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