The “highly respected” leader of the Labour group at Hertfordshire County Council has died at the age of 71.

Judi Billing passed away surrounded by family in the early hours of this morning (November 24).

Ms Billing was a serving county councillor in Hitchin North and led the Labour group at County Hall in Hertford. She also became a district councillor in North Hertfordshire in her 20s.

Her deputy, Cllr Nigel Bell, said: “We are devastated to hear the very sad news of the passing of our dear colleague and leader of our group Judi Billing. 

“We send our condolences and deepest sympathy to Judi’s family. 

“We have lost not only a much loved county council colleague but a trusted friend and mentor. Judi was highly respected not only amongst Labour colleagues at the county council and for long service at North Herts Council but across the party political spectrum here and nationally. 

“When we think of Judi we will always be reminded of her deep commitment to public service, and even in difficult times she always went out of her way to make sure she carried out her responsibilities. 

“When Judi spoke in council it was always to make a relevant and telling point with her own distinct and straightforward style.”

Ms Billing was spokesperson for her group for education, public health, and community safety and sat on various committees and topic groups.

The Jewish great-grandmother contributed to Labour local government regionally and nationally through a number of roles at the Local Government Association and the Association of Labour Councillors.

She was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Freeman of the City of London.

Ms Billing was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to local government.

Conservative county council leader Richard Roberts described Ms Billing as a “dedicated, passionate and hardworking” councillor who was “admired by all who worked with her”.

Stephen Giles-Medhurst, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, also paid tribute, saying: “Judi was a dedicated politician and community campaigner, which was evident not only in the council chamber but in her community.”