UKIP will aim to provide an even sterner challenge to Labour next year after an election performance that was described by local chairman Peter Peers as “a massive leap forward”.

The party, which fielded a candidate in 13 St Helens wards in the local elections, came second in all but two them.

UKIP also polled the second highest number of votes in the Euro elections in the area.

Overall at local level Labour tightened their grip on the Town Hall and now have 42 seats, with the Lib Dems and the Tories holding three each. UKIP still do not hold a seat.

But such was the confidence that UKIP took from the results that John Beirne, their second placed candidate in the town centre ward, claimed the party is now the “main opposition”.

Mr Peers said: “These are fantastic results, particularly when you consider that the new St Helens branch has only been formed for a year.

“It demonstrates both our activists' hard work and the public's desire for a change.

"A growing number of people in St Helens are fed up with the other three main parties and these results reflect this.

“We will build on this and are now aiming to secure our first local councillors in the next elections.

"I stood in the Billinge and Seneley Green ward and polled almost 30per cent.”

The party is due to choose candidates that will contest next year’s General Election in the St Helens North and St Helens South and Whiston wards.

Mr Peers added: "We have not yet selected our Parliamentary candidates but we will be doing so soon and we are confident that UKIP generally is on course to win seats in the House of Commons.”

"The party's membership figures have gone through the roof and are still rising."