TALKS over a potential devolution deal for Cumbria are continuing despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The leaders of the county’s six district councils and Cumbria County Council are set to hold a virtual meeting with Conservative MP Simon Clarke, the minister for regional growth and local government, soon to discuss the Government’s position.

Council leaders met then-Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry in February, when it was mooted that the county could see an elected mayor take charge with two unitary authorities underneath them, although the detail of what any new deal could look like is yet to be thrashed out.

Mike Starkie, the elected mayor of Copeland Council, has made no secret of his support for the idea and believes council leaders are now much more receptive to the prospect than they were when he was first elected five years ago.

“This should have been done three years ago but we missed the opportunity and we can’t afford to do it again,” he said.

“I think everybody is realising it is going to get more and more difficult; coronavirus has put increasing pressure on all of the councils and finances are going to drive us where common sense should have taken us.”

Mr Starkie believes that a deal could even be completed in time for a new mayor for Cumbria to be elected next May.

“The Government got elected on this levelling up agenda and real investment in the north,” he added.

“We need an elected mayor for Cumbria to get that voice at the table and make sure that we don’t miss out.

“With an elected mayor, councils have accountability, responsibility and transparency and we would have a clear, articulated plan for Cumbria.”

Councillor John Mallinson, leader of Carlisle City Council, is also in favour of pursuing a deal which would hand Cumbria more autonomy.

And he believes that, although leaders may disagree on how a new structure should look, the principle of a more “streamlined” approach should be welcomed.

He said: “There seems to be a view that its time has come.

“Initially we thought the coronavirus pandemic might delay things but it seems as though it might give it fresh impetus.”