Chancellor Gordon Brown suggested on Monday economic growth this year would turn out stronger than forecast in his budget a timely boost as he sets out his pitch to succeed Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Talking to reporters in Singapore just before he flew back to London from the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund, Brown delivered an upbeat assessment of the economy and praised the Bank of England for its forward looking approach.

The IMF's new forecast for UK growth was 2.7 percent, he added.

Asked how his comments squared with his March budget forecast, when he predicted growth of 2.0 to 2.5 percent, Brown said: You'll just have to look at what the March forecast was and draw your own conclusions.

I'm saying economic growth is stronger and more balanced. I don't give another forecast until the pre budget report. Tempting as it is to give it you guys today, I'm not going to do that, but you can draw your own conclusions about the improvement in the economy, he said with a smile.

The bullish outlook is a far cry from last year, when Brown was forced to admit at the IMF meetings in Washington that economic growth would probably be half the rate he had predicted in the March 2005 budget.

And better news on the economy is probably welcome, just ahead of next week's Labour party conference in Manchester, where Brown will be expected to stake out his claim as the prime minister in waiting.

Bowing to pressure within Labour, Blair has said he will step down in the next 12 months. Many expect it will be even sooner, perhaps triggering a party leadership contest early next year, and Brown is the clear favourite to win.

But asked whether Blair would endorse his bid, Brown repeated his position that it was for the prime minister to decide when he leaves office and he would support whatever that decision was.