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Local government in England

The local authorities of England: unitary authorities (pink), metropolitan boroughs (purple), non-metropolitan counties and districts (green), London boroughs (orange), and the unique City of London and Isles of Scilly authorities (brown).

Local government in England broadly consists of three layers: civil parishes, local authorities, and regional authorities. Every part of England is governed by at least one local authority, but parish councils and regional authorities do not exist everywhere. In addition, there are 31 police and crime commissioners, four police, fire and crime commissioners, and ten national park authorities with local government responsibilities.[1][2] Local government is not standardised across the country, with the last comprehensive reform taking place in 1974.

Civil parishes are the lowest tier of local government, and primarily exist in rural and smaller urban areas. The responsibilities of parish councils are limited and generally consist of providing and maintaining public spaces and facilities.

Local authorities cover the entirety of England, and are responsible for services such as education, transport, planning applications, and waste collection and disposal. In two-tier areas a non-metropolitan county council and two or more non-metropolitan district councils share responsibility for these services. In single-tier areas a unitary authority, London borough, or metropolitan borough provides all services. The City of London and Isles of Scilly have unique local authorities.

The London boroughs, metropolitan boroughs, and some unitary authorities collaborate through regional authorities. The Greater London Authority (GLA) is the regional authority for Greater London, with responsibility for transport, policing, fire and rescue, development and strategic planning. Combined authorities are statutory bodies which allow two or more local authorities to voluntarily pool responsibilities and negotiate a devolution deal with the UK Government for the area they cover, giving it powers beyond those typically held by a local authority. Ten currently exist, with more planned.[when?]

Parish councils

The parishes of England, as of December 2021.

Parish councils form the lowest tier of local government and govern civil parishes. They may also be called a 'community council', 'neighbourhood council', 'village council', 'town council' or (if the parish holds city status) 'city council', but these names are stylistic and do not change their responsibilities.[3][4][5] As of December 2021 there are 10,475 parishes in England, but they do not cover the whole of the country as many urban parishes were abolished in 1974.[6]

The only specific statutory function of parish councils, which they must do, is establishing allotments. However, there are a number of other functions given by powers in the relevant legislation, which they can do, such as providing litter bins and building bus shelters.[7] Their statutory functions are few, but they may provide other services with the agreement of the relevant local authorities,[8] and under the Localism Act 2011 eligible parish councils can be granted a "general power of competence" (GPC) which allows them within certain limits the freedom to do anything an individual can do provided it is not prohibited by other legislation, as opposed to being limited to the powers explicitly granted to them by law.[9] To be eligible for this a parish council must meet certain conditions of quality.[10]

Civil parishes developed in the nineteenth century and were based on the Church of England's parishes, which until then had both ecclesiastical and local government functions; parish councils were created by the Local Government Act 1894 (56 & 57 Vict. c. 73).[11] The ecclesiastical parishes continue to exist, but neither they nor their parochial church councils have any local government role.[12]

Local authorities

The local authorities of England (in two-tier areas, the county council is pictured first while the district councils are pictured second), as of April 2023.

There are 317 local authorities covering the whole of England.[8] There are five main types of local authorities: London borough councils, two-tier county and district councils, metropolitan district councils and unitary authorities.[8] Some local authorities have borough, city or royal borough status, but this is purely stylistic.[13]

All local authorities are made up of councillors, who represent geographical wards.[14] There are 7,026 wards as of December 2021.[15] Local authorities run on four year cycles and councillors may be elected all at once, by halves or by thirds;[8] although the Electoral Commission has recommended that all authorities use whole council elections every 4 years.[16] Local authorities have a choice of executive arrangements under the Local Government Act 2000: mayor and cabinet executive, leader and cabinet executive, a committee system or bespoke arrangements approved by the Secretary of State.[8] As of April 2023, just 15 local authorities have directly-elected mayors.[17] Some functions are just the responsibility of the executive of a local authority,[18] but local authorities must also have at least one overview and scrutiny committee to hold the executive to account.[19]

The London Government Act 1963 established 32 London borough councils.[20] It also established the Greater London Council, covering the whole of Greater London,[21] but this was later abolished by the Local Government Act 1985.[22] Greater London also includes the sui generis City of London Corporation.[8] The other sui generis local authorities are the Council of the Isles of Scilly,[8] Middle Temple and Inner Temple.[23]

Outside Greater London and the Isles of Scilly, the Local Government Act 1972 divided England into metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, which would have one county council and multiple district councils each.[24] That meant that each area would be covered by two tiers of local authorities - both a county council and a district council, which would share local authority functions.[8] In May 2022, 21 non-metropolitan county councils and 164 non-metropolitan district councils remain.[8] These are better known as simply county councils and district councils. The Local Government Act 1985 also abolished metropolitan county councils,[22] but there are still 36 metropolitan district councils as of May 2022.[8]

There are also (as of April 2023) 62 unitary authorities.[8] These carry out the functions of both county and district councils and have replaced two-tier local government in some areas.[25] The creation of these first became possible under the Local Government Act 1992,[26] but now takes place under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.[27]

In the 2023/24 financial year, 33% of budgeted service expenditure across local government as a whole is set to be on education, 19% on adult social care, 13% on police, 11% on children's social care and 24% on all other services.[28]

Notably, Cornwall Council has been subject to a devolution deal, which are usually reserved to combined authorities for additional functions and funding.[29] And, like some combined authorities and parish councils, local authorities do have a general power of competence.[30] Separate to combined authorities, two or more local authorities can also work together through joint boards (for legally-required services: fire, public transport and waste disposal), joint committees (voluntarily) or through contracting out and agency arrangements.[31]

Regional government

The Greater London Authority and 10 combined authorities of England, as of December 2021.

Greater London Authority

The Greater London Authority Act 1999 established a Mayor of London and 25-member London Assembly.[32] The first mayoral and assembly elections took place in 2000.[33] The former Leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, served as the inaugural Mayor, until he was defeated by future Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2008.[33] The incumbent, Sadiq Khan, was first elected in 2016.[33]

The Mayor's functions include chairing Transport for London,[34] holding the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Commissioner to account[35] and keeping strategies up to date, including the London Plan.[36] Meanwhile, it is the Assembly's role to regularly hold the Mayor and their key advisers to account and it can also amend the budget or a strategy by a two-thirds majority, though this has not ever happened as of March 2022.[33]

Combined authorities and combined county authorities

Combined authorities can be created at the request of two or more local authorities.[37] Combined authorities don't replace the local authorities in question, but can receive separate functions and funding.[8] As of May 2022, there are 10 combined authorities covering some of England.[8] The Secretary of State was first granted the power to create combined authorities by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.[38]

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 gave the Secretary of State the power to provide for a directly-elected combined authority mayor.[39] And, as of May 2022, nine out of the 10 combined authorities have mayors, including Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Andy Street in the West Midlands.[17] In the 2024 local elections, new Combined Authorities were elected they were the new York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority, North East Mayoral Combined Authority, East Midlands Combined County Authority. They are all controlled by the Labour Party as of 2024 except for Tees Valley.[40]

Each combined authority's executive consists of a representative from each of its constituent local authorities, plus (if applicable) the mayor.[37] Functions can be devolved directly to the mayor, to the combined authority as a whole, or have a different decision-making requirement.[37] The budget and functions of each combined authority can be vastly different, but possible functions include responsibility for the relevant police force and/or fire brigade, bus franchising and spatial strategy.[41]


Table of authority types

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Type Notes Example(s)
Civil parish council Lowest level of local government. Newbald Parish Council, Arlesey Parish Council, Handforth Town Council
The only specific statutory function of parish councils, which they must do, is establishing allotments. However, there are a number of other functions given by powers in the relevant legislation, which they can do, such as providing litter bins and building bus shelters.[42] According to the Localism Act 2011 eligible parish councils can be granted "general power of competence" (GPC) which allows them, within certain limits, the freedom to do anything an individual can do provided it is not prohibited by other legislation.
Non-metropolitan district / borough council in a two-tier system Type of local authority.

Lower-tier of a two-tier system.

Epping Forest District council, Gosport Borough Council, Woking Borough Council
Responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism in a two-tier system.
County council in a two-tier system Type of local authority.

Upper-tier of a two-tier system.

Oxfordshire County Council, Nottinghamshire County Council
Responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, libraries, main roads, public transport, fire services, Trading Standards, waste disposal and strategic planning in a two-tier system.
Metropolitan district / borough council Type of local authority.

De facto unitary authorities since abolition of metropolitan county councils.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Newcastle City Council, Sheffield City Council
Metropolitan district or borough councils were originally part of a two-tier system with metropolitan county councils. They differed from non-metropolitan districts / boroughs in the division of powers between district and county councils. Metropolitan district or borough councils were local education authorities, and were also responsible for social services and libraries.

Metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986 and most of their functions were devolved to the metropolitan boroughs making them unitary authorities in all but name.

Unitary authority Type of local authority. Plymouth City Council, Durham County Council, North Somerset Council, Slough Borough Council
Unitary authorities combine the powers and functions that are normally delivered separately by the councils of non-metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan districts.
Combined authority Combined authorities assume the role of an integrated transport authority and economic prosperity board on behalf of its member local authorities. Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Tees Valley Combined Authority
Combined authorities are created voluntarily and allow a group of local authorities to pool appropriate responsibility and receive certain delegated functions from central government in order to deliver transport and economic policy more effectively over a wider area.
London borough council Type of local authority in London only. Tower Hamlets London Borough Council
The London boroughs are administered by London borough councils (sometimes abbreviated LBCs), which are elected every four years. They are the principal local authorities in London and are responsible for running most local services, such as schools, social services, waste collection and roads. Some London-wide services are run by the Greater London Authority, and some services and lobbying of government are pooled within London Councils. Some councils group together for services such as waste collection and disposal. The boroughs are local government districts and have similar functions to metropolitan boroughs. Each borough council is a local education authority.
Greater London Authority (GLA) London only. Greater London Authority
The GLA has responsibility for transport, policing, fire and rescue, development and strategic planning. The GLA does not directly provide any services itself. Instead, its work is carried out by functional bodies which, together with the GLA itself, form the GLA Group  and work under the policy direction of the mayor and assembly.
Police and crime commissioner (PCC) Replaced police authorities.

Some combined and regional authorities may assume responsibility for policing, e.g. Greater Manchester.

Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner
PCCs are responsible for ensuring an effective police force within their area, and to hold the chief constable to account for the delivery of the police and crime plan. Police and crime commissioners are hold the police fund (from which all policing of the area is financed) and are able to raise the local policing precept from council tax. Police and crime commissioners are also responsible for the appointment, suspension and dismissal of the Chief Constable.
Police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner
Same as PCC, with additional responsibility for Fire and Rescue.
National park authority Established by the Environment Act 1995. Peak District National Park Authority
Responsible for maintenance of a national park.
Development corporation Middlesbrough Development Corporation
Holds planning powers over a specific area and is awarded funding for urban regeneration.
City of London Corporation
Sui generis body for the City of London.
Council of the Isles of Scilly
Sui generis body for the Isles of Scilly.

Funding

In England, local authorities have three main sources of funding: UK Government grants, council tax and business rates.[43] In the financial year 2019/20, local authorities received 22% of their funding from grants, 52% from council tax and 27% from retained business rates.[43] In the financial year 2023/24, 51% of revenue expenditure is expected to come from UK Government grants, 31% from council tax and 15% from retained business rates.[28]

Local government can also receive some money from fees and charges for the use of services, returns and interest from investments, commercial income, fixed penalty notices and capital receipts.[44] Local authorities cannot borrow money to finance day-to-day spending and so must rely on yearly income or reserves for this type of expenditure, although they can borrow to fund capital expenditure.[43][44]

Local government in England as a whole has limited revenue-raising powers compared to other G7 countries.[43]

UK Government grants

In the 20th century, local authorities found that the costs of providing services exceeded the revenues raised from local taxes and so grants from the UK Government (specifically the Treasury) gradually increased.[44] However, UK Government grants were cut by 40% in real terms between the financial years 2009/10 and 2019/20, although grant income did grow due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[43]

Local government receives two types of grants: the Revenue Support Grant, which can be spent on any service according to the wishes of the local government body in question, and specific grants, which are usually 'ring fenced' to specifically defined service areas.[44]

Council tax

Council tax was introduced in 1993 to replace the 'poll tax'.[44] It is a domestic property tax, based on eight bands (A to H) depending on the value of the property on 1 April 1991.[44] Various discounts are set out in law and exist at the discretion of billing authorities.[44]

On a yearly basis, local government bodies review and consider whether to increase or decrease the level of council tax to fund their spending plans.[44] The level at which a local authority can increase council tax each year without holding a local referendum is regulated by the Localism Act 2011.[44] In every area, one local authority acts as the billing authority (the district council in two-tier areas), which prepares and collects council tax bills.[44] Other parts of local government (like county councils in two-tier areas, police and crime commissioners, fire authorities, parish councils and combined authorities) act as precepting authorities, which notify the relevant billing authority of their decision on council tax and later receive this money from the billing authority.[44]

Between financial years 2009/10 and 2021/22, council tax rates increased by 30% in real terms, in light of reduced grants from the UK Government.[43]

Business rates

Business rates is a tax on business premises.[44] It is based on the rateable value of the premises (set by the Valuation Office Agency) and a business rate multiplier.[44] It is set and collected by billing authorities.[44]

Reforms in 2013 now mean that local authorities keep 50% of business rate revenues raised locally.[43] The UK Government then distributes the remaining 50% of business rate revenues according to its own judgement.[43] It was initially planned to increase the proportion of business rates that local authorities retain to 100%, but this was indefinitely delayed in 2021.[43]

Criticisms

In 2022, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said that it had "significant concerns about the current governance arrangements for England":[45]

If the people within government are unsure at times where powers and responsibility, and hence accountability, rest, this lack of clarity is magnified for individuals who have little knowledge or experience of the structures. This has the potential to leave individuals less likely to be able to access what they need from government, leaving them often unable to know who is responsible, and as a result are not properly able to hold their democratic representatives to account.[45]

The Committee also said that "[t]he evidence is clear both practically and democratically that the overly centralised arrangements of government in England are problematic" and that reform was also needed of funding structures.[45]

Administrative hierarchy

As of May 2024, the various combined authorities, county, district, and sui generis councils formed an administrative hierarchy as shown in the table below. Unitary authorities are legally either district councils which also perform county functions or county councils which also perform district functions; they therefore straddle the county and district columns. Metropolitan districts and London boroughs are also shown straddling the county and district columns. In much of the country there is also a lower tier of civil parishes.[46] This administrative hierarchy differs from the ceremonial hierarchy.

See also

References

  1. ^ "PCCS Across the UK". Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  2. ^ UK, National Parks. "Planning and Affordable Housing". National Parks UK. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  3. ^ Local Government Act 1972, ss 12A(2), 17A(2).
  4. ^ Local Government Act 1972, s 245(6).
  5. ^ Local Government Act 1972, ss 245(6), (10).
  6. ^ "Parishes (December 2021) EW BFE". Office for National Statistics. 1 April 2022. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  7. ^ Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors. "Powers and Functions of Parish Councils" (PDF). townforum.org.uk. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Local government structure and elections". UK Government. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  9. ^ "The General Power of Competence" (PDF). Local government Association. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  10. ^ "The Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Parish" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 20 (11th ed.). 1911. pp. 823–825.
  12. ^ "bridekirkparish.org.uk". www.bridekirkparish.org.uk. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  13. ^ "List of councils in England by type" (PDF). UK Government. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  14. ^ "English Councils 2021 (Total 331)". Open Council Data UK. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  15. ^ "Wards (December 2021) GB BFE". Office for National Statistics. 1 March 2022. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  16. ^ Electoral Commission https://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/documents/s47107/13a.%20Appendix%20A%20Electoral%20Commission%20The%20cycle%20of%20local%20government%20elections%20in%20England.pdf
  17. ^ a b Sandford, Mark (21 May 2021). "Directly-elected mayors" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  18. ^ Local Government Act 2000, s 9D.
  19. ^ Local Government Act 2000, s 9F(1)-(2).
  20. ^ London Government Act 1963, s 1(1).
  21. ^ London Government Act 1963, s 2(2).
  22. ^ a b Local Government Act 1985, s 1(1).
  23. ^ see e.g. Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998/494 reg.2
  24. ^ Local Government Act 1972, s 1(1)-(4).
  25. ^ Sandford, Mark (22 July 2021). "Unitary local government" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  26. ^ Local Government Act 1992, s 17(1).
  27. ^ Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, s 7(1).
  28. ^ a b "Local authority revenue expenditure and financing: 2023-24 budget, England". UK Government. 22 June 2023. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  29. ^ "Devolution deals". Local Government Association. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  30. ^ Sandford, Mark (20 September 2021). "The General Power of Competence" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  31. ^ Wilson, David; Game, Chris (2011). Local Government in the United Kingdom (5th ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 84. ISBN 9780230246393.
  32. ^ Greater London Authority Act 1999, s 2(1).
  33. ^ a b c d Sandford, Mark (3 March 2022). "The Greater London Authority" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 23 July 2022.
  34. ^ "Board Members". Transport for London. Retrieved 23 July 2022.
  35. ^ Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, s 3(7); Greater London Authority Act 1999, s 327A(7).
  36. ^ Greater London Authority Act 1999, s 41(1)-(2).
  37. ^ a b c Sandford, Mark (17 December 2019). "Combined authorities" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  38. ^ Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, s 103(1).
  39. ^ Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, s 2.
  40. ^ https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainer/english-devolution
  41. ^ Sandford, Mark (10 February 2022). "Devolution to local government in England" (PDF). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  42. ^ Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors. "Powers and Functions of Parish Councils" (PDF). townforum.org.uk. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i Atkins, Graham; Hoddinott, Stuart (10 March 2020). "Local government funding in England". Institute for Government. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Councillor workbook – Local government finance". Local Government Association. 29 December 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  45. ^ a b c Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. "Governing England". UK Parliament. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  46. ^ "Election Maps". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 6 May 2024.
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Local government in England
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