A SINGLE elected mayor would rule a big chunk of the North-East, under surprising plans floated by George Osborne today (Monday, June 23).

The Chancellor threw his weight behind so-called ‘metro mayors’ in England’s biggest cities, with responsibility crossing local council boundaries.

And he promised ‘Boris Johnson-style’ powers and freedoms to any city which adopts “a single leader who can speak for the whole area”.

In a major speech, which also proposed a high-speed rail link across the Pennines, Mr Osborne said: “There’s a mismatch between the economic importance of the great northern cities and their political clout.

“I am putting on the table and starting the conversation about serious devolution of powers and budgets for any city that wants to move to a new model of city government - and have an elected mayor.”

Mr Osborne did not explicitly argue for metro mayors everywhere, but did suggest a single elected leader for Greater Manchester, covering ten local authorities.

In the North-East, such a mayor would logically take in the seven councils that have recently formed a combined authority to argue for extra powers.

They are Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Northumberland councils, an area boasting more than a million people.

Two years ago, voters in Newcastle comprehensively rejected a city mayor in a referendum, after the Government rejected Lord Heseltine’s plea for metro mayors instead.

Yesterday, Mr Osborne agreed – for the first time – that only a mayor crossing council boundaries can enjoy real muscle over “transport or economic development or fighting crime”.

In the Manchester speech, the Chancellor vowed to create a “Northern powerhouse”, arguing for what was quickly dubbed an HS3 rail link between Manchester and Leeds.

However, he admitted he only wanted people to “start thinking” about whether to build it and set out no details, cost or timescale.

The HS2 line is not due to reach Yorkshire for another 20 years – after calls to speed up work were rejected – and trains will run at conventional speed from south of York.

In the speech, the Chancellor argued his policies were “delivering a recovery everywhere”, saying: “Which part of England has the fastest-growing economic activity right now? The North-East

And he argued science had a bright future in the region, pointing to the National Biologics Industrial Innovation Centre, in Teesside, and a "high value manufacturing centre" in Redcar.

Mr Osborne said: “I’ve ruthlessly prioritised science and innovation investment and made hard choices elsewhere to pay for it. Much of that investment is coming north.”

But the speech was attacked by Labour for reviving the Northern Way agenda – four years after the Coalition axed that expert group, set up by John Prescott.

Iain Wright, the Hartlepool MP, said: “The Chancellor thinks the North stops at Leeds. The North-East is full of potential, in need of rail transport infrastructure improvements - not on his map.”

And Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop said: “Nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the North of England.”