Stewart Young doesn’t pull any punches. He warned before the county council elections in May that Cumbria was facing a bleak outlook of multi-million-pound funding cuts.

Now he has to steer the county through what promise to be very choppy waters.

He warns that the county’s economy is facing a “perfect storm” of problems posed by Brexit, delays over the nuclear development of Moorside and continued cuts in Government funding.

“It is the Brexit thing. Every day there is some other aspect of Brexit that comes to light that you maybe have not thought about that has consequences for Cumbria,” he explains.

“We have three areas in particular which are going to be hugely affected. I know people are hoping the government will continue to pay the same level of subsidy as Europe but I can’t see that.

“The tourism industry relies on a lot of its workforce to come from the EU.

“In the nuclear industry, if we withdraw from Euratom then unless we can get agreements in place with 20 foreign governments, then the movement of nuclear waste in and out of the UK will become illegal. Any hope of reprocessing we would not be allowed to do it under international law.

“The strategic economic plan that the Local Enterprise Partnership drew up is predicated on the investment in the west coast. Any delay to that has a huge impact. As reprocessing stops there will be losses of thousands of jobs and a lot was hinging on the fact that there would be alternative jobs which are now at risk.

“We are almost facing a perfect storm in terms of our economy because of these various factors which are out of our control.

“They are all happening around the same time. Any one of those things would be challenging but when they occur at the same time they are very challenging.

“We are in unprecedented times. The challenges are enormous and local government is facing an existential threat.”

He looks for positives over the next four years of his new administration, but can’t see many.

He says the council has to deal with funding cuts of up to £40 million over the next three years and try to maintain services while improving the provision for children, the elderly and the infirm in the county.

He says of his new term of office: “It is a continuation of the arrangement we had before the election with the Liberal Democrats. We already had our plans in place, now we need to deliver.

“Some of those plans are in adult social care. We are still planning to build new care homes in Carlisle and Whitehaven. We’re looking for a big expansion of extra care housing – specially adapted housing for the elderly. We will need to deliver that.

“In children’s services we are under an improvement notice from the Department for Education and we are expecting Ofsted to come back later in the year. Our ambition is to get that notice lifted, so we need to keep a focus on that. In Ofsted-speak, we want to be rated ‘good’.”

An added complication, he says, is that plans for future funding of local authorities that were drafted before the general election have not been finalised.

“By 2020 our government grant will have disappeared, but the arrangements to replace that haven’t been agreed and we are told are now not going to be agreed,” he says. “They will have to come up with some kind of fix, but it just creates this uncertainty which makes it very difficult to plan because you really don’t know how much money you will have.

“You can predict two years ahead but after that you have no idea.”

Conservative opponents accuse him of failing to engage with the government and for failing to make the most of ventures such as the Northern Powerhouse.

Some argue that the county is poised to enter a boom time with development of Moorside, the garden village project on the south of Carlisle, new funding for the Carlisle airport, upgrades to the A66 and expansion plans for Penrith.

“The Northern Poorhouse,” he mocks. “It is a brand isn’t it? I always look for the substance behind the hype and there is a distinct lack of substance.

“There is no doubt that the main drivers of the Powerhouse see it as a vehicle for Manchester to be an alternative hub to London which is something I would welcome. But to pretend it is something that encompasses the whole of the north of England...

“There isn’t any money behind it. It is almost as though every positive announcement made gets badged as though it was somehow due to the Northern Powerhouse.”

He points out the major developments ongoing or planned in London, such as the £30billion Crossrail scheme as part of the disparity in investment between north and south.

“We would brand some of our schemes as part of the Northern Powerhouse if we thought it would be helpful, but there is not an entity called Northern Powerhouse or a pot of money for it.

“The Government want Carlisle city council to release land for 10,000 new houses, but as a highways authority, we have said you could not possibly do that without a southern bypass around the city.

“It is not joined up. The district councils put in bids for these developments but most of the infrastructure is the responsibility of the county council. Which is one of the problems of having a split responsibility.”

He doesn’t believe the county will become a unitary authority any time soon, saying that because of Brexit, the government has no appetite for it. MPs and district councils in the county opposed plans for the idea last time around and he doesn’t think they have changed their opinions.

The Labour leader also defends his decision to form another coalition with Liberal Democrats and independents, despite Conservatives winning 37 seats but not overall control of the council.

“It would have been the easy option to have gone into opposition, sat back and thrown stones and blame them for all the cuts,” he says.

“If you can put together a majority then I think you have an obligation to try to run the council and we will try to protect services as much as we possibly can and I do think we will do that in a different way to what a Conservative administration would do.

“There are a lot of things we want to do over the next four years. There is a lot of focus on economic develop- ment and funding for infrastructure and most of that is lobbying.

“We know what infrastructure we need, we know we want all of our roads improved, we want the railways improved – what we haven’t got is the money.

“A lot of that is about lobbying. In terms of what we can control and what we have resources for, we have clear plans in place.”