Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Local Government

Local government is the lowest level of territorial government within a state and a form of sub-national government.

Functions of Local Government

Local governments can be empowered with a range of functions and responsibilities, the nature of which is generally determined by the central government. General functions include the provision of local public services, such as waste collection, and the implementation of national welfare policies, such as education and social services.

Local Government in the UK

In the UK, the origins of local government pre-date the formation of the UK itself. Therefore each of the four nations has its own system of local government. England has, broadly speaking, a two-tier system of local government which includes county (upper-tier) and district (lower-tier) councils, although in some parts of England there is just a single tier of local government, known as unitary councils. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are only unitary councils. Throughout the UK as a whole there are 418 ‘principal’ councils, which includes unitary, upper and lower-tier councils, the vast majority of which (353) are located in England, with 32 in Scotland, 22 in Wales and 11 in Northern Ireland.

Local Government Elections

Local government elections occur every four years and are normally held on the first Thursday in May. Councillors serve fixed four-year terms and at each election all of the councillors, half or a third will be up for election, depending on the council. The most recent local government elections occurred in May 2016. Independent councillors previously dominated local elections, however nowadays the major national parties dominate local elections and the results tends to reflect the voters’ assessment of national issues.

Benefits of Local Government

The benefits of local government include the diffusion of power away from the central government, responsiveness to local needs, popular participation in decision-making and the more efficient administration of public services.

See also: Parliament , Devolution, Council Elections


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