THE countdown to crunch elections at Worcester City Council has officially kicked off - with the full list of candidates released.

A total of 61 people will contest just 12 seats, with the ruling Labour Party, Conservatives and Greens going all out by fielding hopefuls in every ward.

The Liberal Democrats are putting up just three - despite having one councillor in the decision-making cabinet and being part of the Coalition nationally.

It has also emerged today that the British National Party has found eight candidates, a record Worcester tally for the far right group, and UKIP has got 11.

The election, on Thursday May 22, will be one of the most hotly contested in years, with Labour and the Tories both having 16 councillors each at the moment.

The overall number of 61 candidates is the highest tally for a decade, a figure welcomed by the two main parties.

The Labour Party came to power one year ago after teaming up with the two-strong Liberal Democrats and lone Green Councillor Neil Laurenson to form a shock coup from the Tories.

Labour Councillor Adrian Gregson, the leader, said: "The message we're getting on the doorstep is concern over the cost of living - our aim over the last year has been to try and mitigate against the worst of the Government's cuts and we will continue to do that.

"The number of candidates is a positive thing and hopefully people will vote and be a part of the democratic process.

"When we took over we found the Tories had but budgeted responsibly, we've changed that and are moving forward with ambitious plans."

Councillor Simon Geraghty, opposition Tory group leader, said: "It's good that people have got so much choice.

"We've got a clear message for the whole city and want to pick up as many votes as possible.

"We want to freeze council tax , cut parking charges and deal with cuts in areas like street cleansing, litter bins and play equipment. It's not necessary."

The city's Liberal Democrats said they had limited resources and decided to focus on wards where they felt they could attract support.

The party is contesting Claines, a traditional stronghold, Bedwardine and St Peter's.

Councillor Liz Smith, group leader, said: "We'd struggle to put candidates in every ward."

Worcester Green Party is hoping to build on the success at the last city council elections in 2012, when Councillor Neil Laurenson made an historic breakthrough by winning in St Stephen.

He said: "We've got a full slate and are hoping to pick up support everywhere, if we can win another seat then great."

* Your Worcester News unrivalled election coverage will kick off next week as we go through all 12 wards in detail, revealing the key issues in each part of the city, what the expectations of each party are and what each individual candidate aims to bring to the table.