ON Thursday, the largest set of elections ever held in the UK outside of a general election will be taking place. Voters in my constituency will be electing new county councillors, parish councillors and a new Police & Crime Commissioner.

Local government is about more than bin collections. I should know, I was a councillor for over a decade. While these contests rarely receive wall-to-wall news coverage, they’re vital battles, with local issues at their heart. The values of the candidates you elect will have a real effect on your community and day-to-day life.

That’s because councillors don’t just decide whether verges should be mowed – they steer the priorities of the council, which, in areas such as County Durham, means facing up to an uneasy financial picture and picking up the bill for vital services such as social care, on which our communities depend, but which central government has for too long ignored.

It’s a cruel irony that the areas with the greatest need for council funded services are often those which raise the least money from council tax. Consequently, councils are reliant on funding grants from central government in London.

However, over the past decade Durham County Council and its residents have been given a raw deal.

During the coalition years, the Conservatives and LibDems chose to make eye-watering cuts to these grants. Since 2011, Durham County Council has lost a quarter of a billion pounds in funding and 3,000 of its workforce.

If Durham’s funding per household was brought into line with Conservative councils such as Surrey, this would represent an increase worth £45m a year. Instead, councils like Durham have been left without.

The impact of these decisions at Westminster have undoubtedly been felt in County Durham. Despite being hampered by these cuts and more recently, the pandemic, Labour councillors have stayed true to their principles, committing £112m to frontline services and major developments over the coming years.

These projects, such as financing the building of a new school campus in Belmont and the creation of a Durham Business Recovery Scheme, show the priorities of a council that cares about local communities and wants to invest in areas the Government ignores.

Locally, councillors have the power to make real changes in their community. From building a new bus shelter to tackling littering, these projects undeniably make a real difference. However, it’s the overall direction of the council which makes the greatest difference in people’s lives.

That is why it’s so important to elect local candidates who are grounded within their communities, and understand the need to protect services for all.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of joining many of the Labour candidates standing in my City of Durham constituency. What unites them is their desire to be a strong voice for all residents, not just those with power and influence to shout the loudest.

Local councillors make real change, so it’s vital that you return your postal vote or make the trip to the ballot box on May 6. At the last local elections, less than a third of registered voters in County Durham voted. Don’t just hope that after this election your councillor will understand the needs of your community – go out and vote for one who does.

Mary Kelly Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham