DUDLEY councillors rushed to pay tribute to former leader David Sparks at his final full council meeting after 40 years in local government.

Cllr Sparks, Labour councillor for Quarry Bank and Dudley Wood who is stepping down at the May 3 local election, said it had been “an honour to represent the local community as a local councillor” for four decades - having first been elected as a councillor in 1977.

He told members at last night's meeting at Dudley Council House: “If only our national government recognised that role more the country would be a damn sight better off. When I started in 1977 local government was in a lot better shape that it is now - we had more power.”

But he stressed: “It’s been a privilege to have been a member of this council.”

Cllr Sparks, originally from Yorkshire, was leader of Dudley Council from 2012 to 2014 and chairman of the Local Government Association for 14 years. In 2003 he was honoured for his services to local government with an OBE awarded by Her Majesty The Queen and in 2015-16 he was made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough in recognition of his dedication to public service.

Councillor Pete Lowe, former council leader and leader of Dudley’s Labour Party, said: “David has served local government for all of his adult life. I don’t think politics at a national level recognises the work that any local councillor undertakes.”

He told members they should continue to serve the public and show that local government matters “and undertake the work in the way David has undertaken it”.

Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said Cllr Sparks’ greatest achievement was the level to which he had risen within the national Local Government Association and he said: “To rise to the top of the LGA is a fantastic achievement. It’s usually packed with people from the London boroughs and out in the sticks.”

He added: “I think this chamber will be sorry for losing his experience and his quiet different sense of humour. He will be a loss to this chamber.”

Fellow ward councillor Jackie Cowell said: “This group will be a lot poorer without his contributions.”

While Quarry Bank councillor Bryan Cotterill described him as "a wonderful friend and mentor”.