THE rising prices of bills is the “number one” issue for people in Southampton, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said. 

The opposition leader visited the city to support the campaign of Labour candidates standing in Thursday's local elections.

With Southampton being one of the key swing areas in the country, the results will be closely followed by the Labour team, which is hoping to win back control of the local authority after losing their majority last year.

During his visit to Bitterne precinct on Tuesday, which is represented by three Conservative councillors, Mr Starmer spoke with residents and business people – mainly about the rising cost of living exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

READ MORE: Labour leader Keir Starmer visits Southampton ahead of local elections - Live

Speaking to the Echo, Mr Starmer said: "[The] number one issue that people have spoken to me about this morning is that they can't pay the bills, particularly their energy bills, and they're really worried and would like to know what would Labour do about that.

"What I've been able to say [is] we'd have a windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the North Sea who made more money than they were expecting and use that tax to help people with their energy bills, up to £600 for those who need it most."

Daily Echo:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that more could be done to help address the cost of living crisis, following criticism by opposition parties. 

“What we want to do is make sure that we have people who are in particular hardship looked after by their councils, so we are putting much more money into local councils,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on the same day as Mr Starmer’s visit.

However, on the issue of a windfall tax specifically, Mr Johnson said that higher taxes for oil and gas companies would “discourage them from making the investments that we want to see that will, in the end, keep energy prices lower for everybody”.

READ MORE: Southampton City Council elections 2022: Who's running?

Joined by the leader and deputy leader of Southampton Labour Group, Cllr Satvir Kaur and Cllr Darren Paffey, Mr Starmer visited cafe, Stacey’s Shack, The Card Gallery and Bitterne Library. 

He also visited the taxi rank in Bitterne to hear about the impact the rising cost of fuel is having on firms.

Asked what a Labour government would do for the city, Mr Starmer reiterated his pledge to help those worst affected by spiralling costs. However, he also said local issues, such as tackling anti-social behaviour, will also be addressed by his team locally.

Commenting on the Labour leader’s visit, the current leader of the council said Mr Starmer’s words don’t match with his party’s actions over the years at a local level.

Cllr Daniel Fitzhenry said: “As a new Conservative council, we have frozen council tax, we have frozen rents and scrapped evening parking charges. We have also got the £150 tax rebate for people. 

“That is what we have been doing for people and we’re doing everything we can as a Conservative administration. Every year that they ran the council for the last nine years, they increased taxes and charges. From our point of view we’re focussing on delivering on our commitments.

“The Labour party are clearly talking about the things that they would do. But in nine years of running the council they didn’t do anything.”

Daily Echo:

The Liberal Democrats and The Green Party have also fielded candidates for Thursday’s elections. The two parties made an electoral pact last month which will see them not stand against each other in a number of wards.

The Liberal Democrats have stood down in Portswood, Millbrook and Bitterne Park wards while The Green Party has stood down in Bassett, Swaythling and Shirley. 

Katherine Barbour, of Southampton Green Party, also recognised the hardship caused by the cost of living crisis, adding: “We have to reduce costs by improving insulation and getting our energy from low-cost sun and wind sources.”

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