CAMPAIGNING for the local elections is heating up, with the Conservatives and Labour battling for control of the council on May 5.

Following a by-election last year, both parties have 17 councillors each on Worthing Borough Council, with the Labour group “optimistic” that they could have control of the council for the first time.

Conservative Councillor Kevin Jenkins, who currently leads Worthing Borough Council, said that the recent bin strike has been coming up on the doorstep after residents started getting refuse collected following an agreement between the council and the GMB union.

He said: “Considerable anger has been expressed that Worthing Labour councillors and candidates supported the bin strike, and there is a strong belief that their actions as councillors caused the strike to last longer, as the strikers believed that a Labour council would promise them a better deal.”

The Argus: Worthing Borough Council leader Kevin JenkinsWorthing Borough Council leader Kevin Jenkins

He also accused Labour of having a campaign focused on national issues, rather than how they would address issues in the town.

Cllr Jenkins said: “When they’re asked on the doorstep what they would do, they can’t or won’t answer. They won’t say how they will fund any plans, so some residents fear that council tax will massively rise.

Cllr Jenkins also said that Conservative voters “believe it is not the time for change” of council control, and that Ukraine has come up more on the doorstep than the ‘Partygate’ scandal.

When asked whether he is confident the Conservatives will keep council control, he said: “I never predict election outcomes - we’ll all know on May 6.”

'People feel they haven't been listened to'

However, Councillor Beccy Cooper, Labour’s group leader in Worthing, said that residents have not only felt that the Conservative council have taken them for granted, but have warmed to the prospect of a Labour-led administration.

She said: “There’s definitely an element of people feeling that they haven’t been listened to for quite a number of years, and we’ve been really aware for a good few years now that people are interested in a different conversation between the council and the community.”

She disputed Cllr Jenkins’s claims and said: “We’ve got a local manifesto reflecting hours and hours we’ve spent talking and listening and being involved in the communities.

“We did go down to the picket line during the bin strike and we did speak to people on strike - they were local community members who work really hard and we, of course, we’re sympathetic to people who feel they’ve got to end of the line and have got no other option but to strike.

“We were always supportive of that strike being resolved and also the people on the picket line wanted the strike to be resolved too. People don’t strike on a whim.”

Several shadow cabinet ministers and activists from across the county have visited the town to support Labour’s campaign, which Cllr Cooper described as “really heartening”.

Cllr Cooper said that, while she does not take anything for granted, she is “overall optimistic” that Labour will have a good result from the election.

“We will run until the very last second to run the best campaign we can and give the very best for our communities, and I do think there is a good likelihood that we will be able to form the next administration.”

Candidates from four parties, as well as several independent candidates, are contesting wards across Worthing on May 5.