The economic ambitions for Cumbria are not matched by its political clout and financial resources.

That was the strong message delivered by Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, to business and political leaders who gathered to hear the case for devolution in the county.

Mr Murison – understudy to the NPP’s Lord Jim O’Neill, who found himself stuck on the West Coast Mainline due to damage to overhead cables and a broken down train – also launched a scathing attack on “small-minded individuals standing in the way of change” in Cumbria.

He said appetite for devolved decision-making powers over finances to tackle issues such as skills and transport were reaching new heights among business leaders, and the majority in the political sphere.

“Leaders in large and small businesses are impatient for change,” Mr Murison told the audience gathered at UCLan’s Samuel Lindow building at Westlakes Science Park, near Whitehaven, on Wednesday.

“They are seeking a dynamic economy that utilises all of the county’s assets and creates opportunities that children aspire to.

“But the economic ambition here is not being matched by the resources. In West Cumbria, for example, we don’t have a champion or someone with the resources to lead on the huge opportunities emanating from nuclear decommissioning and the potential for Small Modular Reactors.

“We can't rely on one or two business leaders to lead on this – public and private sector need to work together.

“Petty self-interest and small-minded individuals who have been standing in the way of change need to move out of the way.”

Mr Murison, who said he favoured an elected “metro mayor” for the county as, at least, a first step, outlined the prize of devolution for Cumbria.

“If we did have devolution, we can address some of the deep-seated issues around education in some of our most deprived communities and develop and improve skills for the next industrial revolution that resonate in a global setting,” he said.

“We could get a transport network that connects our economic assets, which currently suffer a double bind of being disconnected from near neighbours, let alone other economic centres across the North. I can’t believe it can take a few hours to get from BAE Systems in Barrow to Sellafield.

“The purpose of devolution is to create a better life for people – and their children.”

Mr Murison said it would be down to political leaders in the county to decide on the right geography for any devolution settlement, adding: “we’re not here to interfere”.

There has been debate over whether Cumbria moves to a single combined authority or whether there is a split across the county, dividing the north and the south.

The Borderlands Growth Deal, emerging Lancaster and South Cumbria Economic Region partnership, and a growing appetite for a similar approach in West Cumbria, could also influence any decision.

Michael Heaslip, a councillor for Alerdale Borough Council and chair of the Samuel Lindow Foundation, said moves towards devolution should not start with deciding governance arrangements.

“We need to start with a purpose, a clear vision, and not get hung up on structures and why everyone else seems to be a threat,” he said during a lively question and answer session.

“Devolution is not about putting a boundary around ourselves, but firming of our base to engage with the rest of the world.”

Cumbria County Council’s Tony Markley added: “Cumbria really needs to get its act together. If we don't grasp the opportunities being presented by The Borderlands and Northern Powerhouse it will be our own fault.”

Chief executive of profit-for-purpose property company BEC, Michael Pemberton, also issued a warning.

“The case (for devolution) is compelling, but we have the potential for inertia,” he said.

“We say we’re going to do a lot of things (in Cumbria) but find ourselves being blown of course.”

The NNP wants to see 100 per cent devolution across the whole of the North and has been pushing the case hardest in Cumbria.

A previous attempt to secure a devolution deal for Cumbria under the David Cameron Government collapsed due to a lack of consensus between political leaders.

It has also been put at the top of the lists of demands by the Power Up the North collaboration, which brings together media organisations Newsquest – publishers of in-Cumbria – JPI Media and Reach.

Power Up the North, along with other public and private sector organisations including NP11 and the CBI, have all called on the political parties to commit to devolution in the run up to next month’s General Election.