A FORMER Tory leader met Castle Point’s apprentice of the year – and made a new four-legged friend.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, visited dog hydrotherapy business Completely K9, on Canvey yesterday.

He met Dale Walter , who got a job at the Charfleets business after completing an apprenticeship there, and Ehren, a long-haired weimaraner.

Mr Walter, of Thorney Bay Village, said: “It came as a shock on Friday when I was told Mr Duncan Smith was coming to see us. He was really nice and it was good to meet him. We discussed the next steps for me and how the apprenticeship has changed my life.”

The 21-year-old was unemployed just over a year ago when he was offered work experience as an animal care assistant at Completely K9, in Tavistock House.

Impressed by Dale’s hard work, owners Jo Crosby-Deakin and Jim Yarmouth offered him an apprenticeship, for which Castle Point Council awarded him the accolade “Apprentice of the Year”.

At the end of his apprenticeship last month, Jo and Jim offered him a full-time job.

Jo said: “It was great. With Dale and his apprenticeship it was really good that he received the recognition he deserved.

“As a small business, it was good for Mr Duncan Smith to see what we do and what we are up against.”

Mr Duncan Smith, opposition leader from 2001 to 2003, said: "Everything I have done as Secretary of State is about giving people the dignity of a job.

“Those who take a job, or work more hours, are guaranteed to be better off.

“We have also capped benefits so no-one can earnmore on benefits than the average working wage.”

Rebecca Harris, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Castle Point, said: “Since 2010, unemployment has decreased by 60 per cent in Castle Point and the number of local young people taking up apprenticeships has gone through the roof.

“We have a fantastic work ethic in Castle Point and so I wanted to take Mr Duncan Smith to meet some of the local people whose hard work is fuelling Britain’s amazing economic turnaround."

Other candidates in the constituency are Ukip’s Jamie Huntman, Labour’s Joe Cooke, Dom Ellis, for the Green Party, and Lib Dem Sereena Davey.