Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the party is “fighting for every vote” after meeting college students and trying his hand at a spot of welding.
Sir Keir was visiting Sandwell College in the West Midlands to launch the Jobs Promise initiative, which aims to give young people who have been out of work, education or training for six months a chance to access quality skills, learning and employment opportunities.
During the lengthy visit, he chatted with students and rolled up his sleeves, removing a car tyre, changing spark plugs, and having a go at welding.
Sir Keir was accompanied by the party’s West Midlands mayoral candidate Liam Byrne.
Ahead of the trip, the Labour leader said the Jobs Promise would “give young people the opportunity to learn and earn, gaining the skills they need to progress into secure employment”.
Labour has said its plans would also “create 400,000 secure jobs in low-carbon industries across the country such as steel and the automotive industry”.
The party has called on the Government to use the “underspend” in the apprenticeships levy by creating an apprentice wage subsidy, and has argued this could have created 85,000 new apprenticeship opportunities for young people aged 16 to 24 last year.
Labour has claimed apprenticeships in key sectors including health and care, retail and engineering had seen take-up drop “by over 128,000 since 2015”.
After his visit, Sir Keir was asked by reporters if the party’s key policy messages were cutting through to voters in the Black Country, as millions prepare to go to the polls in next week’s local elections.
He said: “We’ve got big teams out knocking on doors, talking to people every day and the feedback we’re getting is positive.
“The result will be a week on Thursday.
“We’re fighting for every vote and we know we’ve got to earn every vote.”
As well as the local elections, which determine the make-up of councils, the party is battling to hold on to Hartlepool in a two-way by-election fight with the Conservatives.
Sir Keir said he had been to the County Durham town twice in recent days, most recently on Friday, and that people there were telling him their priority was “jobs, jobs, jobs”.
“In Hartlepool as with everywhere else, we need to earn those votes,” he added.
“We lost very badly in December 2019 and the way to restore trust is to listen to people and appreciate we, the Labour Party, need to earn those votes.”
Sir Keir rejected the suggestions Labour’s West Midlands mayoral campaign was “in trouble”, after being asked about one poll which put party candidate Mr Byrne nine points behind incumbent Conservative mayor Andy Street.
He said: “What we’re doing is the hard graft, talking to people one-to-one on their doorsteps, asking them what matters to them.
“I am well aware Liam Byrne and I have to earn every single vote in that election next week, and that’s what we’re doing.
“It’s the vote a week on Thursday that matters above all else.”
He added: “Liam Byrne has a very ambitious and clear plan for the West Midlands and he needs to be given the chance to deliver that plan and show what a difference it will make.”
Sir Keir said the party’s priorities were “about jobs, protecting the NHS front line, and about the future, particularly in relation to crime, law and order and anti-social behaviour”.
He said those were the key issues “coming up” on the doorstep.
The leader of the opposition added the party “can’t take anything for granted” and would be “working every minute, every hour, every day, as we go into this election”.
Speaking about his visit to the “incredible” college, he said: “I have learned the skill of changing a tyre on a car.
“I’ve changed the spark plugs and I’ve had a go at welding – which is much harder than you think.
“I’ve got to come back for a top-up for my skills – welding in particular.”
Asked by reporters if “Keir Starmer’s Autos” might be one possibility if a career in politics did not work out, he joked: “I’ve already signed in to come back here to finish off those skills, so that I’ve got them for life.”