SHADOW Chancellor George Osborne hit the campaign trail in Lancashire today with a visit to an aerospace manufacturer before sampling delicacies at a historic market.

Mr Osborne first visited Pendle, one of the Tories' top targets next Thursday.

He joined Conservative candidate Andrew Stephenson at Foulridge engineering firm Weston Electrical, where he spoke to staff and management about their concerns and aspirations.

Later he accompanied Chorley candidate Alan Cullens on a trip to the town's recently refurbished covered market where he spoke to traders, shoppers and visited nearby shops.

Mr Osbourne said: "I was most impressed with the skill and dedication shown at Weston and am only too aware of the importance of the aerospace and defence sector of the economy to jobs in this area.

"We see here the importance of the many smaller firms which maintain a strong skill base in East Lancashire.

"The Conservatives are absolutely committed to the contracts which underpin these jobs. The defence of the realm is our number one priority."

Chorley is another key election battleground and is seenas a reliable 'bellwether' seat, with the winning party going on the form the Government at every election since 1964.

He met with one of the market's longest serving traders, John Brennand, who has run his clothing stall for more than 40 years, before paying a visit to Norma Caney's cake stall, where he sampled a Chorley cake.

Norma, who has run the stall for 46 years, said: "He seemed a very pleasant man and showed an interest in the business. I for one am hoping he becomes Chancellor."

Mr Osborne later defended Conservative spending plans when asked what he would say to public sector workers who fear budget cuts could affect their jobs.

"A Conservative government would be committed to a world class NHS, great schools and policing," he said.

"We would protect services but we have a big debt problem which needs urgent attenon and which would be helped by not filling back office vacancies and not replacing people who retire or move away."