George Osborne says Conservative government would prioritise investment in infrastructure and create a connected “powerhouse” of northern cities

A future Conservative government would prioritise investment in infrastructure, including through the creation of a connected “powerhouse” of northern cities which would rebalance the economy of the UK, George Osborne has said.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today, the chancellor also said the Tories would use further cuts in welfare spending to pay for the creation of three million new apprenticeships across the course of the next parliament.

He said: “We must choose the future. We will tap the shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables, and guarantee our energy for the future.

“We will build the high-speed rail, decide where to put a runway in the South-east and support the next generation with starter homes in a permanent Help to Buy.”

At the heart of these decisions to invest in infrastructure, he said, would be measures to close the gap in economic performance between the north and the south of the UK.

This included a new pledge 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: “Modern high-speed transport, big science investment, top universities and the strong leadership that comes with powerful elected mayors.

“Those are the ingredients of a Northern powerhouse. And it is one of my driving ambitions to do everything I can to build it.”

However, while promising a further £25bn of further cuts in annual revenue spending, Osborne unveiled no new measures to ensure previously promised investment in infrastructure is brought forward.

He said the welfare cuts he proposed would free up £3bn to spend on apprenticeships, but it was not clear how many of those would be in the construction sector.

Osborne’s speech followed an earlier address by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin in which he promised to rebuild the UK’s transport infrastructure, and said the government would soon set out plans for investment in additional road capacity for the A303, the A27 and A1 in the north.

He also set out a plan to make 2018 - the year in which Crossrail will complete - the “year of the engineer” in order to recognise the “brilliant” engineers in the UK and “excite a new generation of Brunels, Stephensons and Telfords.

The Conservative Party at the weekend set out plans to build 100,000 starter homes for first time buyers, which would be available at 80% of the market rate and be exempt from Section 106 and affordable housing requirements and from having to meet the 2016 zero carbon standard.