House of Commons Library

Local government in England: structures

Published Friday, April 6, 2018

This note contains basic details of the structure of local government (counties, districts and unitary authorities); the electoral system, ward structures, and the franchise; the divisions of functions between local authorities; and the process for changing local government boundaries and structures.

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This note contains basic details of the structure and functions of English local government. It outlines the system of counties, districts and unitary authorities), and other bodies such as fire and rescue authorities, combined authorities, and Police and Crime Commissioners.

Section 3 explains the system of local government elections, including the systems of electing by ‘halves’ and ‘thirds’ used in many local authorities. It also provides details of the local government franchise (those eligible to vote).

Section 4 provides details of the legal process for structural change in English local government. This includes the merger of district councils and the creation of ‘unitary authorities’ to replace ‘two-tier’ local government – i.e., county and district councils. A number of new unitary authorities are to be created in 2019 and 2020, including in Dorset, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. Section 4 provides details of these and of the Government guidance on proposals for unitary local government. The Appendix provides a breakdown of the division of responsibilities between county and district councils in two-tier areas.

Section 5 provides brief details of the financing of English local government, including an explanation of the annual Local Government Finance Settlement. Additional details can be found in the Library briefing Local government finances, and details of the 2019-20 settlement process can be found in the Library briefing on the Local Government Finance Settlement 2019-20.

Section 6 provides some historical information about the development of local government in England.

Commons Briefing papers SN07104

Author: Mark Sandford

Topics: Elections, Local government

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