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Osborne backs 'powerful' mayors despite Pickles remaining cool

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Chancellor George Osborne has repeated his call for the introduction of “powerful elected mayors” as part of his vision for a “northern powerhouse” to address the north-south divide.

In his speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham today, the chancellor said mayors could provide “strong leadership” to underpin devolution.

Elected mayors were among the “ingredients of a northern powerhouse”, alongside successful business, high-speed transport, science investment and top universities, he said.

Mr Osborne said he could “see the risk of our capital city’s dominance” and that, rather than pulling back London, he wanted to “build up the rest of our country”.

He wanted to “create a northern powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines, to connect up the south west, and to put the Midlands at the centre of our great manufacturing revival”.

The chancellor said his party knew “what it takes to create flourishing economies”, and that this included “the strong leadership that comes with powerful elected mayors”.

“Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative government,” he said.

In an interview with LGC yesterday, communities secretary Eric Pickles said elected mayors should not “in the immediate future” be brought back to cities that rejected the idea in referendums in 2012.

Mr Pickles said he believed the mayoral model should be introduced “with the consent of the people”.

The chancellor also said the latest Treasury estimate was that £25bn of permanent spending cuts or new taxes would be required to eliminate the deficit. The option of cutting the deficit by raising taxes “no longer exists, if it ever did,” he said.

He said a future Conservative government would cut Whitehall spending by at least the current rate for the first two years of the next parliament.

Mr Osborne also announced:

  • A future Conservative government would continue with public sector pay restraint
  • Working-age benefits would be frozen for two years to save £3bn
  • He wanted to “abolish long-term youth unemployment altogether”
  • A reduction in the benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000
  • The creation of three million apprenticeships.
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