Red-faced Whitehall officials have apologised after a Government minister got his Newcastles mixed up.

Embarrassed Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford has admitted confusing the city of Newcastle with Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire.

The blunder happened afetr he decided not to back calls for a vote on a powerful US-style direcly-elected mayor to run on Tyneside.

In a letter explaining his decision, Mr Raynsford said Geordies had already drawn up their own petition to force a referendum.

His claim puzzled campaingers as no such petition has been presented to Newcastle City Council.

In fact, the petition referred to by Mr Raynsford was drawn up by voters 200 miles away in the Midlands market town.

Lib Dem leader Coun Peter Arnold said: "I would expect a Government Minister to know the difference.

"It's a common failing among Labour politicians in London who are not particularly interested in doing their homework and finding out locations."

Newcastle-under-Lyme councillor Derrick Huckfield said: "When you look at a map you see Newcastle-under-Lyme is exactly in the middle of the country.

"To get this mixed up with somebody in the North East is a bit of a joke, really.

"This could be one of the reasons why we're always missing out on grants - they don't know we exist."

Government officials say the mix-up will make no difference to the minister's decision.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions said: "It did not play a part in an assessment of the proposals or affect the decision."

Newcastle City Council rejected calls for a referendum by 32 votes to 28.