COPELAND mayor Mike Starkie has renewed calls for a referendum on whether there should be an elected mayor for the whole of Cumbria, promising to “push hard” for it.

Mr Starkie has pledged to start a petition if his calls to include a people’s vote on May’s ballot paper are rejected by other district councils.

The shake-up would bring Cumbria in line with other areas of the country including Manchester and Liverpool and put the county on track towards becoming a unitary authority.

He said: “It all goes back to the devolution deal but five of the seven councils voted against it – they wouldn’t enter negotiations.

“But I am going to push quite hard for this. A referendum wouldn’t be expensive if we held it on the day of the council election (May 2 2019). That would form part of a consultation towards the re-organisation of local government.

“If there was a referendum, people would be able to campaign on both sides of it with the public able to decide the benefits – rather than seven leaders deciding things behind closed doors.

“I think we should have an elected mayor – and if they don’t agree to the referendum then the next step would be to set up a petition.”

Mr Starkie believes the move would give Cumbria a bigger voice on the national stage, describing the lack of an elected mayor as a “stumbling block.”

Cumbria is currently run within a three tier system of local government, with the council council providing education and social care, and six district councils running refuse and recycling collections and leisure facilities.

A move to a unitary system would see one authority running all services within a set area.

The options under consideration are thought to include the reinstatement of the traditional Cumberland and Westmorland boundaries abandoned in 1974 - with Barrow and Furness ideally placed to join the south.

It is understood another possible model could see the creation of two new authorities - with one overseeing services in North Cumbria and the other in charge of a newly created "footprint" covering Morecambe Bay.

Estimates suggest a switch to unitary could save up to £28m a year across Cumbria – though the cost of the change over itself could carry a price tag of up to £500,000 over a four year period.