Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a unitary state with certain characteristics of a federal state, following the implementation of the 1997 devolution agenda in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Data: 2016
Local level: 419 local authorities
In general, councillors are elected for a four year term, based on either a first-past-the-post voting system or a proportional system.

England has 27 county councils, 36 metropolitan district councils, 201 non-metropolitan district councils (local authorities outside of big cities) and 56 unitary authorities (a one tier local authority).  In the United Kingdom’s capital city of London, there are 33 boroughs as well as the Corporation of the City of London, which is the city’s financial district. The Isles of Scilly also have the status of county council.

Wales has 22 single tier unitary authorities (county and county borough councils). These authorities deliver a wide range of services, such as housing, social services, transport and highways, environmental health, libraries, leisure and tourism. The 22 existing single-tier unitary authorities were established in 1996.

Scotland has 32 single tier unitary authorities. In Scotland delivery of services is becoming more complex with Community Planning Partnerships bringing together by law the municipalities with the other public and voluntary bodies of that local area. Furthermore in addition to transfer of some services to the central level there is now integration of national and local services of social care and health.

Northern Ireland has 11 district councils whose competencies are more limited than elsewhere in the UK, but who have been reformed in April 2015, restructured from 26 to 11 authorities, to possess new powers including Planning, Community Investment and Economic Development, in addition to Regulatory, Registration, Enforcement, Animal Welfare, Refuse, Waste Management, Building Control,
Leisure, Arts and Environmental Health. In addition to the local authorities referred to above, there are over 12,000 other smaller authorities at the local level (parishes, community councils, town councils). Most of these have small elected bodies to look after local interests.

The Greater London Authority, set up in 2000, is considered a regional authority.


Local competences are not uniform throughout the United Kingdom as they are wholly transferred (devolved) to Scotland, while other arrangements are applied to Wales and Northern Ireland. English local governments remain directly accountable to the UK government and parliament.

There are two tiers of local government in parts of England (counties and districts) and a single tier in other parts of England and all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (councils).

• Education
• Social services
• Highways and transport
• Strategic planning advice
• Fire
• Waste disposal
• Libraries

• Local planning
• Housing
• Licensing
• Building Standards
• Environmental health
• Waste collection
• Park and leisure services
Nations and regions: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
In England, the only directly elected regional authority is the Greater London Authority, which has an assembly of 25 elected members, with an executive mayor, elected by direct universal suffrage.  Its main competences include public transport, sustainable development planning, fire and emergency planning and metropolitan police.

In the rest of England, legislation could allow for the setting up of elected regional assemblies, but only if there is a positive popular vote by referendum.  At present, no regional assembly has been set up and there are no plans to do so.

The National Assembly for Wales came into existence in 1999.  It has a more limited range of legislative powers than the Scottish Parliament (mainly on secondary legislation, giving more detailed effect to UK parliament measures). However, its primary law-making powers were enhanced following a referendum held in March 2011, making it possible for it to legislate without having to consult the UK parliament in devolved areas. Its competences include policy development and implementation in agriculture, culture, economic development, education, environmental health, highways and transport, social services, housing, planning and local government.

Since 1999, the Scottish Parliament, with a Scottish executive government has had full legislative powers over a wide range of matters – effectively, all issues except those reserved to the UK Parliament. Its exclusive competences include education, health, environment, agriculture, justice, social work, planning and local government. A further transfer of mainly tax and borrowing powers to the Scottish Parliament was enacted via the Scotland Act 2012 and following the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 a new package is currently (2016) being discussed in the UK parliament.

The Northern Ireland Assembly also came fully into being in 1999. Its main competences include the economy, foreign direct investment, justice, policing, education, health, regional infrastructure and agriculture, with some planning and economy powers now devolved to Councils. From April 2015, there is the possibility of further powers being transferred to it at a later date.

CEMR in United Kingdom

Local Government Association
Chief Executive: Mark LLOYD
Local Government Association
18, Smith Square - Westminster, London SW1P 3HZ
Tel.: +44 20 7 664 3100
Fax: +44 20 7 664 3128
Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)
Chief Executive: Steve THOMAS
Welsh Local Government Association / Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Local Government House, Drake Walk, Cardiff CF10 4LG
Tel.: +44 29 2046 8600 or +44 29 2046 8600
Fax: +44 29 2046 8601
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
Chief Executive: Sally LOUDON
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
Verity House, 19 Haymarket Yards, Edinburgh EH12 5BH
Tel.: +44 131 474 92 00 or +44 131 474 92 00
Fax: +44 131 474 92 92
Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA)
Chief Executive: Derek McCALLAN
Northern Ireland Local Government Association
Bradford Court, Upper Galwally - Castlereagh BT8 6RB
Tel.: +44 2890 798 972 or +44 2890 798 972
Fax: +44 2890 791 248
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