Copeland mayor Mike Starkie has called on county council leader Stewart Young to step down, describing him as a “fly in the ointment” blocking change in Cumbria.
Following the Labour Party’s loss of its final county MP in last week’s General Election, Mr Starkie, the elected mayor for Copeland Council, said it was “ethically and morally” necessary for Labour leader Mr Young to step aside in favour of Conservative group leader James Airey.
As well as what he saw as a rejection of the Labour Party in Cumbria, Mr Starkie described his concern that Mr Young’s history of opposition to an elected mayor for Cumbria would “block any further progress” on a devolution and investment deal with the new Government.
Indications from the Government prior to the election suggested a new deal for Cumbria could be on the cards should the Tories be returned to power.
Devolution - handing power from Westminster to regional politicians - would potentially happen only with the introduction of an elected mayor position for Cumbria.
Mr Starkie believes replacing the current council system with a combined authority and an elected mayor is the best model for governing Cumbria effectively.
This would see Cumbria County Council scrapped, with the six district councils coming together under the office of a directly elected mayor.
This is the way local government now works in several parts of the country, including Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.
One reason Mr Starkie wants to see this model brought to Cumbria, in addition to the greater powers an elected mayor would be granted, is the Government investment this change would bring.
Negotiations over a £300m Government investment deal, tied to the introduction of an elected mayor, fell apart in 2016 after councillors opposed to the deal said they did not have time to properly scrutinise the plans.
Mr Young opposes an elected mayor for Cumbria, which he sees as bringing another layer of bureaucracy to the county.
He instead supports the creation of a unitary authority, scrapping district authorities and replacing them with one county-wide council.
Mr Starkie said with county council elections taking place in May 2021, there was “a level of urgency” to his call for Mr Young to step aside.
“Labour needs to go away and work out why they’ve lost all this power. But Cumbria can’t wait around until they’ve got their act together,” he said.
“If we have the fly in the ointment, which is what Stewart Young is, blocking the route of the changes that we need, then we’re going to get left behind.”
“I think people in Cumbria deserve a better kind of politics than this.”