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It was “unforgivable” that the Tories had failed to keep their promise to level up the UK’s lagging areas, Sir Keir Starmer said at the start of Labour’s local election campaign.

However, the Labor leader would not commit to “turning on the tap” and helping struggling local governments plug their funding gaps.

Sir Keir also suggested the local elections were a chance for voters to send “another message” to the Conservatives by calling on Rishi Sunak to call a general election.

Ahead of the council and mayoral elections on May 2, the Labor leader praised his party's “local growth plan” and suggested he favored longer-term funding arrangements for local councils should his party win power at a general election.

At the launch in the West Midlands town of Dudley, Sir Keir, alongside his deputy Angela Rayner, appeared to praise the sentiment behind the Conservatives' leveling-up agenda.

But he claimed the government had “not bothered” with the plan to reduce regional inequality and suggested his party would drive a “fundamental change” in politics through devolution.

He added: “My disappointment over the last 14 years, but particularly since 2019, is that by saying they would raise the level the Government wanted to tap into something real that people were longing for, but they had no viable plan .” And they didn’t do the hard yards. This is unforgivable.

I can't pretend that we can turn on the tap and pretend that no damage has been done to the economy, that is the case

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer

“And we intend to turn that around and make sure we can make that connection happen and transform places across the Black Country.”

Leveling Up Minister Michael Gove hit back at the Labor leader, telling broadcasters: “Keir Starmer couldn’t be more wrong.

“We are the party that has been a leader in leveling up for years.”

The government minister added that there had been “an injection of cash and a surge of power” in neglected areas under the Tories and that Labor had “nothing new to say”.

Labor would bring forward a “Take Back Control Act”, Sir Keir said, which would give regional mayors new powers over transport, skills, energy and planning, a promise he described as “full devolution”.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England, has warned they face a £4bn budget shortfall over the next two years.

Pressed on whether Labor would seek to close these shortfalls, Sir Keir said: “There are no political games here, councils of all political stripes are struggling with the lack of funding they have had over a period of time and we must change.” to.”

Sir Keir said there was “scope for different types of funding arrangements”, pointing to longer three-year contracts for local authorities rather than the current one-year deals.

But he added: “I can't pretend that we can turn on the tap and pretend that no damage has been done to the economy, that is the case.” The way out is to grow our economy, and that brings me back to the plan we are putting in place today.”

Sir Keir said on Sky News that councils would only be better funded “at the end of a new Labor government” and that this would not happen through a “blanket cash injection” but by “reducing the burden on councils” through measures such as containment inflation and the ban on evictions through no fault of their own.

The Labor leader also said he had “full confidence” in his deputy as she continued to face questions over the sale of her council house, and the pair had tried to portray a relaxed mood at the top of the party.

Ms Rayner joked that the Prime Minister was “the political equivalent of that friend from home who says he'll get the first round if you pay for the taxi and then when you get to the bar he's nowhere to be seen,” she described but the Labor leader as “the man who always brings in his rounds”.

Sir Keir informally called his deputy “Ange” and continued with the joke, adding: “Don't be seduced by her favorite drink, the poison cocktail, or you'll live to regret it.”

Looking ahead to the general election, the Labor leader said he had hoped to “run a different campaign here today, but the Prime Minister has suppressed it”.

“He wants one last long summer tour with his beloved helicopter. So we have to send him another message, show his party once again that their time is up, the hesitation must stop and the date must be set,” he added.

I fear that this is a cover for the fact that just this week the Labor Party said it refused to guarantee free childcare to every child over nine months old

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt claimed Labour's start to the local elections was a “smokescreen” as Labor tried to back away from suggestions it would not respect the Government's new childcare provision.

He told broadcasters: “The incumbent Labor Party has not given any powers to local authorities.

“In the last two years alone we have devolved powers to two thirds of local authorities.

“I fear this is a cover for the fact that just this week the Labor Party said it refused to guarantee free childcare to every child over nine months old.

“This will be a hammer blow to families across the country who will benefit from the biggest childcare rollout in our history from next week.”

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