Sir Keir Starmer says he will take nothing for granted ahead of crucial local elections in Sunderland next month.
The city is being talked up as one to watch come election night on May 5, with opposition parties hoping to steal more seats and take the council out of Labour’s control for the first time ever.
Labour lost nine seats in Sunderland in 2021 and a swing of another six this year would see the party lose its majority for the first time since the council’s formation in 1974, with city Conservative leader Anthony Mullen raising the prospect of an alliance with the Liberal Democrats to oust the current administration.
Mr Starmer was in Sunderland on Tuesday for the second time in the space of just a couple of months, speaking to young people in Southwick as he announced a new policy to crack down on anti-social behaviour.
The Opposition leader insisted that his trips to Wearside were a “sign that I want to win votes in Sunderland” rather than nervousness ahead of polling day.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I am very pleased to be back here in Sunderland making the positive case for Labour into these elections, with a very good set of candidates. I am very aware that we have to earn every vote, I don’t take anything for granted.
“But what we bring to this campaign is a Labour Party that is on your side, sharing the priorities of the people in Sunderland. That is why we are talking about anti-social behaviour, that is why we are talking about the cost of living.
“I think, at the moment, it is pretty obvious there is a huge divide between the political parties – with a Conservative Party in the middle of chaos about tax schemes when they should be focussing on the cost of living for so many people here in Sunderland and a Labour Party that has got answers to the questions. An oil and gas tax in the North Sea could be used to reduce energy bills by up to £600 – practical responses to the problems that are so acute for people just at the moment.”
Mr Starmer was speaking at the Southwick Altogether Raising Aspirations (SARA) project, which has created a community orchard as part of efforts to reduce anti-social behaviour in the area.
He announced a pledge to create new Community and Victim Payback Boards that would decide what unpaid work offenders would be ordered to carry out as part of community sentences. The board would include members from local communities and victims’ representatives.