Theresa May should give control of EU cash for regions to elected mayors after Brexit to rebalance the UK economy, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen says.

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northern political leaders should be given control of millions of pounds that will return to Britain after Brexit to give Theresa May a “quick win” as she seeks to rebalance the economy, Tees Valley’s mayor said.

Ben Houchen, who is the North’s only directly elected mayor east of the Pennines, said regional aid cash handed out by Brussels comes with “strings attached” and so “distorts” local economies as it can only be used for certain projects.

Handing control to devolved leaders will mean it is used more effectively, he argued.

The Government has pledged to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund to replace the EU cash for poor regions and Mr Houchen said he was putting pressure on ministers to get more detail.

He urged them to give directly elected mayors control of the funding and argued Whitehall already has enough oversight to ensure a “radical” mayor does not spend it on something “ridiculous”.

The Conservative told the Commons Local Government Committee in Manchester: “There is an ability for government to get a very quick win on helping to rebalance the economy and devolution by converting the money that in effect we’re sending to Brussels that comes back with strings and bells and whistles attached, to give it to us in relation to the Shared Prosperity Fund.”

He went on: “One of the big problems we have, even with the money that we do get, which is substantial, is that it does come with so many strings attached and by definition it then distorts the local economy because you can only use it on certain things.

“Whereas if it was part of our single pot with in effect zero strings attached then it would be for the directly elected cabinet and mayors to decide what needs to be done with it.”

The Yorkshire region was set to receive around £340m in EU regional development funding from 2014-2020.