Copeland's Labour leader has accused the district's elected mayor of "betraying" the community at the worst possible time.

Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie announced last week he had joined the Conservative party, after six years at the helm of Copeland council as an independent.

But Mike McVeigh, leader of the Labour group, has now written to Mr Starkie to express his disappointment at the timing of the decision.

He said that mayor Starkie had campaigned with the slogan 'Your mayor, not a party mayor' and this was key to gaining backing.

Coun McVeigh told Mr Starkie: "The public elected a higher number of Labour councillors than even our most optimistic predictions, meaning we have a sizeable majority on the council and a significant mandate from voters — voters who knew exactly who we were and what we stood for when they voted for us.

"We have chosen over the past 12 months to use this mandate to support you, because we recognise that people do not want to see political fighting, and because you had made a promise to keep politics out of local government. While we don’t always see eye-to-eye, we have enjoyed some successes, and jointly played our part in delivering those. We have worked in partnership, supporting our officers, and delivering as best we can for the people.

"The Covid-19 response is perhaps the biggest example of a time when local people need councillors, of all parties and none, to work together.

"Therefore it beggars belief that you’ve chosen this moment to betray the community and break your pre-election promises."

Coun McVeigh concluded his letter asking Mr Starkie to "leave both your new blue rosette and personal political ambitions at the door, and focus on the job at hand — helping our community."

Bur Mr Starkie said it was the Labour group that was making matters political.

"They are the ones making it political, they've got a decision to make, they have supported my policy agenda, which hasn't changed, and benefitted from how the council has worked. Do they want to be disruptive and slow progress?

"Whatever decision they make we'll continue to move this council forward."

Mr Starkie added that he had been proud to lead Copeland Council in its response to the coronavirus, with the authority being a "shining example".

On the timing of his decision to join the Conservatives, Mr Starkie said: "As we're coming out of Covid the Government is pushing the levelling-up agenda, that's one of the things I bought into.

"There's a lot of investment coming up to the North and we need to make sure we're in the best place to make the most of it."