IT is "unforgivable" that the Tories did not follow through on their pledge to level up left-behind areas of the UK, Sir Keir Starmer said as he launched Labour's local election campaign in Dudley.

However, the Labour leader would not commit to "turn the taps on" and help ailing local councils to fill their funding black holes.

Sir Keir touted his party's "local growth plan" ahead of the May 2 council and mayoral polls, and suggested he would favour longer-term funding deals for councils if his party was to win power at a general election.

He and his deputy Angela Rayner together launched the party's campaign document, which includes detail on Labour's plans for regional devolution.

Stourbridge News: Angela Rayner and Sir Keir Starmer launching Labour's election campaign in Dudley. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA WireAngela Rayner and Sir Keir Starmer launching Labour's election campaign in Dudley. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

At the launch at the Black Country & Marches Institute of Technology in Dudley, Sir Keir appeared to praise the sentiment behind the levelling up agenda.

But he added: "My frustration of the past 14 years, but particularly since 2019, is that in saying levelling up, the Government was tapping into something real that people yearned for, but they didn't have a viable plan. And they didn't do the hard yards. That's unforgivable.

"And we intend to turn that around and make sure that we can make that connection real, and change places across the Black Country."

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England, has warned they face a £4 billion gap in their budgets over the next two years.

Pressed about whether Labour would seek to plug these shortfalls, Sir Keir said: "There is no playing political games on this, councils of all political stripes are struggling with the lack of funding they have had over a prolonged period and we need to turn that around."

Sir Keir said there was "scope for different kinds of funding settlements" pointing to longer three-year deals for councils, rather than the current one-year settlements.

Stourbridge News: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Dudley. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA WireLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Dudley. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

But he added: "I can't pretend that we can turn the taps on, pretend that damage hasn't been done to the economy, it has. The way out of that is to grow our economy and that takes me back to the plan that we are launching today."

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

Ms Rayner joked the Prime Minister was “the political equivalent of that friend from back home who says he will get the first round in if you pay for the taxi and yet when you get to the bar he is nowhere to be seen”, but described the Labour leader as “the man who does always get his round in”.

Stourbridge News: Angela Rayner in Dudley at Labour's election campaign launch. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA WireAngela Rayner in Dudley at Labour's election campaign launch. Pic - Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

Sir Keir referred to his deputy informally as “Ange”, and continued the joke, adding: “Don’t be tempted by her favourite drink, the venom cocktail, or you will live to regret it.”

Referring to the general election, the Labour leader said he had hoped to launched “a different election campaign here today, but the Prime Minister bottled it”.

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

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt claimed Labour’s local election launch was a “smokescreen”, as it sought to move on from suggestions it would not not honour the Government’s new childcare provision.

He told media: “The Labour Party in office devolved no powers to local authorities.

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

“I am afraid this is a smokescreen for the fact that just this week the Labour Party have said they are refusing to guarantee the free childcare offer for every child over the age of nine months.

“That is going to be a hammer blow for families up and down the country who from next week are going to start to benefit from the biggest ever rollout of childcare in our history.”