26 years ago, I become England’s youngest councillor. I have now been an elected representative in some capacity for over a quarter of a century. In addition to making me feel old, my 26th anniversary gave me an opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows of representing my home.
At the age of 21, to be chosen to represent Denton West was a tremendous honour. All these years later, I can still walk down the street and point to things in Denton West that I helped to do, and this always serves as a reminder to me about the real difference that local politics makes.
General Elections are incredibly important, but local politics directly shapes our day-to-day lives. It impacts what happens in your street, how your council tax is spent, the management of roads, libraries and local public services. Good local councillors can transform communities and can effect real positive change. Take the issue of the Tame Valley, for example, where local councillors joined me in standing against the Bredbury Parkway expansion. Without the work of local councillors, it is likely that the Tame Valley would have been sold to the highest bidder and would have been irreparably damaged as a result.
However, the great work of local councillors often goes under the radar, making their devotion to public service even more admirable.
There is no denying that being a local representative is a tough job and has got even tougher over the last decade. Central Government grant funding has been reduced by 37% in the last 12 years, and the expectation on councillors is to plug the gaps with Council tax increases. This reduced funding, alongside the increased cost of social care and children’s services has led to squeezed spending on neighbourhood services, and incredibly difficult funding decisions having to be made. Local representatives are having to operate in a tighter framework than ever before.
In that context, I am proud of all the candidates – from across the political spectrum – for standing for what they believe in and for trying to make a positive change to their local communities.
That’s why I would encourage everyone across Tameside, whoever your support, to go out and show it. I would urge you to get out there and vote and stand up for your local community. Vote for the best future for our borough and vote to show that local democracy matters.