It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend Thelma Walker on her speech and on securing the debate.
Many of the services that are closest to the people we represent and that many people value and appreciate are delivered by local councils. Many of them, such as collecting refuse, recycling, street cleansing, operating street lighting and keeping street drains clear, are easily identifiable council services but, as we know and as my hon. Friend highlighted, councils do much more. They provide education, social and youth services, libraries, community centres, leisure centres, allotments, play areas, car parks, local tourism and business support. They also facilitate a huge amount of partnership working by acting as the conduit for joint working between police, health, the third sector and others. Many local authorities also still provide housing services and even those who no longer have housing stock still provide limited private sector housing support and are responsible for taking the lead on tackling homelessness.
I spent the 20 years before I was elected to this place in 2015 as a councillor and cabinet member. I was first elected in 1995. My first experience as a councillor was marred by the huge financial pressures that local authorities were under. I was full of hope at first that I would play a part in making a positive difference to the community that had just elected me. Is not that why we are all elected? However, the council I was elected to was subjected to massive cuts in my first two years as a councillor. Our annual budget was cut by £30 million over two years. That happened from 1995 to 1997, in the dying days of the Thatcher-Major Tory Government.
From 1997, things changed dramatically and for the 13 years under a Labour Government the council’s funding increased year on year. There were modest increases in the early years but more significant increases followed—in one year reaching almost 10%. Those were years when local authorities thrived. I recall one year when I was the youth champion for the authority and was able to argue for and obtain an additional £150,000 for youth services in the following year. There are many other examples when funding was available to support local services.