Local Government Facts and Figures


Fun facts about local government

  • England’s longest serving councillor is Lloyd Wilce for the Labour party. By 20th May 2015 he had served on Cinderford Town Council for 66 years.

  • The youngest councillor in England is Liberal Democrat Isabelle Murray, who was just 18 years when elected to Seaford Town Council on 3rd August 2015.

  • West Somerset has the smallest local council by population with 34,222 people.

  • Birmingham has the largest council population with 1,101,360 people

  • The most inconclusive council is probably London Borough of Merton. Since 1964 control has passed between Labour, the Conservatives and no overall control several times. It is currently under Labour control.

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Find out more:

How does a council work?

How many councils are there?

How many councillors are there?

How is local government structured?

What is local government responsible for?

What is the overall political control of councils?

Who pays for local government?

How much do councils spend?

What is the turnover for local government?

How many people work for local government?

About LGiU


How does a council work?

Local councils are made up of councillors (called members) who are voted for by the public in local elections. They are supported by permanent council staff (called officers).


Councillors are elected to represent people in a defined geographical area for a fixed term of four years, unless elected at a by-election in which case the time will be shorter. Councillors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, voters, political parties and the councils.

Councillors decide on the overall direction of policy. Council officers then implement these policy initiatives and are responsible for delivering services on a daily basis.

  • Full Council – The full council is made up of all elected councillors, usually belonging to a range of different political parties. The full council debates and decides upon policy based on reports from the committees.
  • Committees – Councillors on committees monitor and review the council’s performance and decision-making process in order to ensure it is accountable to the public. Information is provided to the committees by council officers. In councils without a Cabinet (see below), power is exercised by the committees, made up of councillors in proportion to their party’s representation on the full council.
  • Cabinet – A cabinet is like the government of the council, usually formed by the political party that has most elected representatives in full council. It is the only group which is allowed to make decisions on certain areas of policy without the approval of the full council. Each Cabinet member usually looks over a specific area, e.g. environment, housing, culture. Between 2000 and 2011, most councils were required to have a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ model rather than a committee system. However, since the Localism Act 2011 allowed them to, some councils have switched back.
  • Leader or Elected Mayor – The political leader of a council is responsible for the overall performance of the council – as well as its strategic direction and its relationship with central government. The leader often sits on the Local Enterprise Partnership board. Elected mayors perform the same role – unlike unelected or lord mayors, whose jobs are largely ceremonial.


Permanent staff perform many of the duties of the council. Lots of local authorities have a Chief Executive, who oversees the management of the council. Underneath the Chief Executive, there will usually be a number of directorates or departments, e.g. finance, corporate services, children’s and adults’ services, housing etc.

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How many councils are there?

In some areas of England, local government is divided between a county council (upper tier) and a district council (lower tier), which are responsible for different services. In other areas, there is a single unitary authority instead.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are no upper and second tier councils, only unitary.

There are 418 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK –  27 county councils, 201 district councils, and 125 unitary councils. Looking at just the 217 upper tier councils (excludes district), there are 152 in England, 32 in Scotland, 22 in Wales and 11 in Northern Ireland.

There are 9-10,000 local councils in England, including town, parish, community, neighbourhood and village councils. Scotland and Wales have a similar system of community councils that sit below the principal councils.

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How many councillors are there?

At the 2013 Census of Local Authority Councillors, there were roughly 18,100 councillors in England. The latest figures show 1,264 councillors in Wales, 1,223 in Scotland and 462 in Northern Ireland.

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How is local government structured?

The structure of local government varies from area to area. In most of England, there are two tiers – county and district – with responsibility for council services split between the two tiers. However, London, other metropolitan areas and parts of shire England operate under a single tier structure.

County councils cover the entire county and provide around 80 per cent of the services in these areas. Each district council covers a smaller area and provides more local services.

Local authorities

In total there are five possible types of local authority in England. These are:

  1. County councils – cover the whole county and provide 80 per cent of services in these areas, including children’s services and adult social care
  2. District councils – cover a smaller area, providing more local services (such as housing, local planning, waste and leisure but not children’s services or adult social care), can be called district, borough or city councils
  3. Unitary authorities – just one level of local government responsible for all local services, can be called a council (e.g. Medway Council), a city council (e.g. Nottingham City Council) or borough council (e.g. Reading Borough Council)
  4. London boroughs – each of the 32 boroughs is a unitary authority.
  5. Metropolitan districts – effectively unitary authorities, the name being a relic from past organisational arrangements. They can be called metropolitan borough or city councils.

Combined authorities

Since the establishment of Greater Manchester in 2011, groups of councils have formed combined authorities in some areas of England. These combined authorities – currently in and around Manchester, Sheffield, the North East, Liverpool and West Yorkshire – receive additional powers and funding from central government. They are particularly important for transport and economic policy across the regions in which they are based.

Town and parish councils

Below the district level, in some parts of England there are town and parish councils, responsible for services such as management of town and village centres, litter, verges, cemeteries, parks, ponds, allotments, war memorials, and community halls. There are around 9,000 such councils in England and Wales.

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What is local government responsible for?

  Unitaries County Councils District Councils Metropolitan Districts London boroughs GLA
Transport Planning
Passenger Transport
Social Care
Leisure and Recreation
Environmental Health
Waste Collection
Waste disposal
Planning applications
Strategic Planning
Local tax collection

 Source: Local Government Financial Statistics England no.25 2015

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What is the overall political control of councils (in England and Wales)?

These figures reflect the number of councils under each party’s control. This differs from the percentage of the population living under each party’s control.

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Who pays for local government? 

Local government in England and Wales is funded by grants from central government (about 54%) including redistributed business rates, and locally raised funding (about 46%) which includes council tax (charged to local people) and other sources such as car parks, parking permits and the hire of sports facilities.

Local government accounts for about a quarter of all public spending in the UK (22%).

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coins7How much do councils spend? 

Local government revenue expenditure is budgeted to be £94.1 billion in England in 2015-17 which is a 1.4% decrease from the previous year

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What is the turnover for local government? 

Core Spending Power (CSP) is a new measure of local government funding introduced in LGFS 2016/17. CSP for 2016-17 is £43,479m.

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How many people work for local government? 

Local government is collectively one of the largest employers in England, employing nearly 1.5m full time equivalent staff.

Did you find everything you needed? If not, contact us on info@lgiu.org.uk

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Winter Facts 

Lincoln brought the first traditional Christmas market to the UK as part of its friendship and twinning with the town of Neustadt


About LGiU

LGiU is a think tank and local authority membership organisation as well as a registered charity; and what we are about is pretty simple. We are all about people and the places where we live: we are about the everyday essentials that make life work – health, schools, homes, jobs, support, open spaces and the rest. And the thread that weaves through all our work is our core belief that all these essentials are best when they are designed and delivered locally.

To stay up-to-date with the work we are doing, don’t forget to join our mailing list.

If you want to know more about this year’s local elections, take a look at our project page.











https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/444993/2904001_LGF_web_accessible_v0_2__final_.pdf (PDF document)



https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/LGCL01/LGCL01.pdf (PDF document)

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445052/RA_Budget_2015-16_Statistical_Release.pdf  (PDF document)



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