Express & Star

Rishi Sunak hoping Black Country visit will help serve up local election votes

"Hello, hello, hello!" beamed Rishi Sunak as he breezed into the upstairs room of the Black Country Living Museum's Elephant & Castle pub.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gets his chips at the Black Country Living Museum [Getty]

The Prime Minister was in the region for the first time since entering Number 10 in October to launch the Conservatives local elections campaign.

He was all smiles when posing for pictures with somewhat surprised visitors to the attraction, having taken a ride in an old car and feasted on the famous chips.

It was understandable that he had a spring in his step after what he would consider to be a highly productive week.

His Brexit deal went through the Commons with a minimum of fuss, after a predicted Tory rebellion was whittled down to a trickle.

And on the same day his old foe Boris Johnson – one of 22 MPs to vote against the Windsor Framework – was left fighting for his political future following an arduous session in front of the privileges committee.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chatted with visitors at the Black Country Living Museum [Getty]

Mr Sunak, who is widely considered to be a chief architect in Mr Johnson's downfall, was keen to draw a line under the past look ahead to what he hopes will be the resurgence of his beleaguered party.

He is well aware that the West Midlands, and the Black Country in particular, are key to his party's chances of success after 12 months of turmoil.

Asked how he would get voters who had turned against the Tories back on side, he said: "I'm focusing on delivering for people here in the West Midlands. At the beginning of the year I set out five very simple promises I made to the country – to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and to stop the boats.

"I know they are the country's priorities and they're my priorities and we will deliver on them."

Pressed whether this week's rise in inflation had put a spanner in the works, he said: "We're on track to halve it over the course of the year. It's not going to be easy. Battling inflation is tough, but we've got the right plan to do it.

"The number one thing that people are struggling with is the cost of living. They're sick and tired of opening up these bills every week and seeing them go up at the rate they are. I want to stop that and the plan is working. By the end of the year we will be in a much better place."

Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Mr Sunak said the Black Country was "the perfect place" to launch the local elections campaign. He said his Government was proving its backing for the region by investing in high streets and town centres, as well as transport – including extending the Metro – and "spreading jobs and opportunity for everyone".

He said he want to build a region where people can walk around with "enormous pride" in their homes and feel their families can have opportunities to succeed.

The PM said he had serious concerns about knife crime, which is at the highest rate in the country in the West Midlands, where three fatal stabbings and numerous violent assaults have occurred in the last few weeks.

He said he was committed to making the streets safe by putting more bobbies on the beat, strengthening stop and search powers and bringing in tougher sentences.

Investing in young people by "making sure we've got great youth clubs" was also vital, he said.

Rishi Sunak with mayor Andy Street at the Black Country Living Museum [Getty]

Asked about calls from the West Midlands Police Federation to ban the sale of machetes, Mr Sunak said the issue was currently being examined by the Policing Minister.

"People can be sure that we are absolutely committed to making sure that our communities are safe," he added.

Mr Sunak, who was accompanied on his visit by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Dudley MPs Marco Longhi and Mike Wood, was keen to address the National Express strikes that have left the region with hardly any bus services all week.

He said he was pleased there had been positive talks over a new pay deal and said it was time to end the disruption.

Reflecting on the wave of industrial action across a number of sectors that has gripped the country in recent months, he said: "I don't think it's right that strikes can disrupt people's lives to such an extent.

Rishi Sunak at the Black Country Living Museum with Marco Longhi MP and Mike Wood MP

"People do have the ability to strike but that's got to be balanced with people's ability to go about their day to day lives, which is why as a Government we're in the process of legislating over minimum service laws."

Mr Sunak would not be drawn on his party's prospects for the upcoming local elections, where the Conservatives will be contesting seats across all four Black Country councils as well as Cannock Chase, South Staffordshire, Stafford, Wyre Forest and Lichfield.

He conceded it would be "challenging" considering the Tories had been in government for 13 years, but vowed to "fight really hard" for every seat in the West Midlands.

"On a local level, what you get with the Conservatives is councils that keep council tax as low as possible and deliver fantastic services," the PM said. "That's the message we are going to take out to people."

During his visit Mr Sunak stopped off at Marston's in Wolverhampton. He also gave his backing to the Metro extension in Brierley Hill, which was handed £60m in government funding in the Budget but is still more than £140m short.