U.K. to Hand Manchester More Powers in Northern Devolution Drive

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will give Greater Manchester more powers over transport, housing and police through a directly elected mayor, in a move to devolve more power to the north of England.

The plan, made in spite of the city’s rejection of getting an elected mayor in a 2012 referendum, is part of a wider initiative to hand more powers from Parliament in London and boost economic development in the North, the Treasury said in an e-mailed statement today.

With just over six months to go before national elections, Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron are trying to shore up support for their Conservative party in traditional Labour heartlands. They are also seeking to convince voters that the greater powers promised to Scotland to keep it in the union before the Sept. 18 independence referendum will be matched in England.

“Giving cities power is part of our long term economic plan to reduce the decades-old gap between north and south, London and the rest,” Osborne said. “This is a massive moment for the north of England and our plan to build the Northern Powerhouse.”

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will also get support for business growth, skills and help to join up health and social care budgets, while the mayor will control a 300 million-pound ($480 million) housing investment fund. Manchester will be the first multiple-district area to have an elected mayor outside of London, where Boris Johnson, a Conservative, is serving a second term.

First City

An elected mayor is needed as “greater power for local government must always come with greater local accountability,” Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said in the statement. Manchester could be the first of many cities to get devolved powers as part of the new plan, the Treasury said.

Osborne earlier this year said he’ll set out a 15-year plan to create a so-called “northern powerhouse,” details of which will be announced in the Autumn Statement on Dec. 3. Cameron and Osborne last week said they backed a proposal for a high-speed rail line across northern England, referred to as HS3.

Scotland has had a parliament with legislative powers and Wales an assembly since the late 1990s under a process known as devolution introduced under the Labour government of Tony Blair.

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