Elected mayors would give Britain's great cities "a chance to thrive", Conservative peer Michael Heseltine predicted yesterday.

The former Deputy Prime Minister set out his vision for a powerful elected leader who would take responsibility for policing, health and employment, at the Conservative conference in Blackpool.

Lord Heseltine was commissioned by Tory leader David Cameron to investigate ways of helping cities to succeed.

Tory-led Birmingham City Council is opposed to the creation of a directly-elected mayor and the proposals are unlikely to be welcomed by Conservative Mike Whitby, the council leader.

But Lord Heseltine said the move could lead to tailor-made local policies for cities such as Birmingham.

He received an enthusiastic welcome from delegates when he said powerful local leaders could help with "rebuilding the great powerhouses of provincial England".

Mayors could take over the role of existing Government quangos and allow a bonfire of the targets and red-tape which currently "suffocate" councils, he said.

Lord Heseltine continued: " I have proposed to David a vision for a new partnership.

"Central Government cannot abandon its responsibilities for the proper use of taxpayers' money.

"But taxpayers' money does not have to be channelled through the quangos of central Government.

"Ten thousand million pounds a year goes through the Housing Corporation, the Regional Development Agencies, English Partnerships and the Learning and skills councils.

"To achieve value, tax payers money should recognise local priorities, local initiatives, local ambitions."

This could be done by appointing professional mayors who were directly accountable to voters, he said. An elected mayor could take over the existing responsibilities of local government, such as education, transport, housing and planning, he said.

But a mayor could also become responsible for policing, giving people a public and accountable figure in charge of law and order, he said.

Mayors could also take charge of local health services and wider education and employment policy, he said.

Every city needed its own solutions, he insisted. "Birmingham is not Manchester. Leeds is not Liverpool. Bristol is not Coventry . . . each city has a different history, different strengths, different opportunities." :