FORMER Cabinet minister Hilary Benn visited Worcester today - urging Worcestershire's councils to go for it over creating a powerful "combined authority" to unlock millions of Government cash.

The shadow communities and local government minister, who served in the old Labour Government under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, also said areas like Worcester had a key part to play in solving "a housing crisis" around the UK.

Mr Benn said massive rewards would be on offer under a future Labour Government if councils could team up to create new bodies to grab devolved powers.

The 61-year-old, who spent time with volunteers helping improve the Worcester-Birmingham canal and also visited Charlie's Cafe in Sidbury this lunchtime, said: "Local authorities need to come together to form combined authorities and if that's what they do our offer is a very clear one.

"We've got to have devolution that's not just for cities, but the county regions as well so what we're saying is we will give you powers over transport, bus regulation, skills, infrastructure, all those things that can be handed down to a local level."

He said it was time for "real local leadership" to take precedence over decisions made in Whitehall.

Mr Benn, a former environment secretary under Gordon Brown, also defended a pledge to scrap the New Homes Bonus, a yearly top-up for councils worth £12 million to Worcester over the next five years.

Mr Benn said the entire fund would "all go back into the system" and be re-distributed in a "fairer way" rather than simply based on pushing through house building.

Rejecting criticism it would act as a disincentive to councils to approve developments, he said: "If you were elected why would you not want to ensure there is enough house building for the future.

"It is a fundamental responsibility of our communities that we get enough houses for the children and grandchildren of the future, we've got a housing crisis.

"A recent survey showed 80 per cent of people believe we've got a housing crisis but 40 per cent said 'don't build them where I live' - we have to take responsibility and do it collectively for the next generation."

He also acknowledged frustration over the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), the blueprint earmarking land for 28,370 homes by 2030, for the length of time it is taking to be approved.

He said "every area has to have a plan" even if some are mired in difficulties with inspectors.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, the county council leader, revealed earlier this month that he wants talks with the districts about forming a new body to grab any new devolved powers on offer after the General Election.

He believes it could be an "over-arching" body rather than anything which would replace district councils.

Mr Benn said today he was not prepared to offer them any advice on forming a unitary authority, insisting it is a local issue, but stated that Labour wants far greater "collaboration" between councils.