Local Government Facts and Figures


Fun facts about local government

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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 to a committee system.
  • 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 is elected by the rest of the council, and in the cabinet system the leader then appoints the cabinet members. The leader often sits on the Local Enterprise Partnership board. Elected mayors perform the same role, but are directly elected by the residents, rather than other councillors. (NB Elected mayors are different to unelected or lord mayors, whose jobs are largely ceremonial and don’t hold any powers).


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 only unitary, single tier councils.

There are 418 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK –  27 county councils, 201 district councils, and 125 unitary councils. 

We have a list of all UK councils and their political control at 15 May 2017 that we are sharing as open data here.

England (353 total)

  • 27 County Councils (upper tier)
  • 201 District Councils (lower tier)
  • 32 London Boroughs (unitary)
  • 36 Metropolitan Boroughs (unitary)
  • 55 Unitary authorities (unitary)
  • 2 Sui Generis authorities – City of London Corporation and Isles of Scilly (unitary)

Wales (22 total)

  • 22 Unitary authorities (unitary)

Scotland (32 total)

  • 32 Unitary authorities (unitary)

Northern Ireland (11 total)

  • 11 Unitary authorities (unitary)

There are around 11,000 local councils in the UK, including town, parish, community, neighbourhood and village 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, and region to region.


In most of England, there are two tiers – county and district – with responsibility for services split between the two tiers. County councils cover the entire county area and provide around 80 per cent of the services. Within the county, there are several district councils which cover a smaller area and provide more local services.

However London, other metropolitan areas and some parts of shire England operate under a single-tier council structure.

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 within a county, 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 council.
  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 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. There are currently 9 combined authorities in England;

  1. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough–  Mayor James Palmer
  2. Greater Manchester Combined AuthorityMayor Andy Burnham 
  3. Liverpool City RegionMayor Steve Rotherham 
  4. Sheffield City Region (Mayoral elections 2018)
  5. Tees Valley Combined AuthorityMayor Ben Houchen 
  6. West Midlands Combined AuthorityMayor Andy Street 
  7. West of England Combined Authority Mayor Tim Bowles
  8. North East Combined Authority– No directly elected mayor 
  9. West Yorkshire Combined Authority– No directly elected mayor

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

All of Wales’ 22 authorities, Scotland’s 32 authorities and Northern Ireland’s 11 authorities are unitary – they operate a single-tier local government system.

Town, parish and community councils

In some parts of England, Wales and Scotland there is another layer of local government below these councils called parish (England), town (England) or community (Wales and Scotland) councils. These are responsible for services such as management of town and village centres, litter, verges, cemeteries, parks, ponds, allotments, war memorials, and community halls.Scotland’s Community Councils have fewer powers than their counterparts in England and Wales.

There are around 9,000 such councils in England, 730 in Wales and 1200 in Scotland. There are none in Northern Ireland.

Source: House of Commons Library

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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?

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, and from the number of councillors in each area.

Political Control Conservative Labour Lib Dem Independent RA UKIP SNP No Overall Control
England 57% 27% 2% 0 0.3% 0.3% 0% 14%
Wales 5% 32% 0% 14% 0% 0% 0% 45%
Scotland 0% 0% 0% 9% 0% 0% 0% 91%
Northern Ireland 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%

Source: Wikipedia We have a list of all UK councils and their political control at 15 May 2017 that we are sharing as open data here.

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

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Who pays for local government? 

Local government in England and Wales is funded through:

  • grants from central government (about 54%) made up mainly of redistributed business rates, including the Revenue Support Grant and the Public Health grant;
  • 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.

However this system is currently going through a major change. By 2020 the Government has committed to phasing out central grants for local government, so that local government will be funded entirely through locally retained business rates and council tax. The aim of this move is to encourage local authorities to promote local economic growth and to be financially self-sufficient. This system of 100% Business Rate Retention is still being designed by DCLG.

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

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coins7How much do councils spend? 

Revenue Expenditure

  • The total revenue expenditure by local authorities in England is budgeted at £94.5 billion in 2017-18; this is a increase of 0.4% from £94.1 billion budgeted for 2016-17.
  • Education service expenditure is the largest component of spend but has been decreasing each year. It has been decreasing each year due to local authority controlled schools converting to academies.
  • Changes to GLA’s financing mean additional capital expenditure is to pass through the revenue account from 2017-18
  • Excluding both education and GLA figures from the budgeted revenue expenditure gives a total of £55.3 billion for 2017-18. This 1.0% higher than the £54.8 billion budgeted in 2016-17.

Service Expenditure 

  • The largest increase in expenditure driving this change is to Adult Social Care services. This is budgeted to increase by £1.2 billion (8.6%) compared to the budget for 2016-17.
This year authorities that deliver social care were able to in- crease their council tax by an extra 3% finance adult social care; this was in addition to the 2% increase allowed without triggering a local referendum. They also received an additional £1.1 billion from the Improved Better Care Fund.
  •  37% of local authority total service expenditure is budgeted to be spent on Education, 17% on Adult Social Care, 12% on Police and 9% on Children’s social care.

Revenue financing

  • In terms of financing, 29% of revenue expenditure will be funded through council tax, 15.% from retained business rates and 53% from central Government grants. The remaining 2.1% is to be funded by use of reserves and other items.

This information is taken from DCLG’s Statistical Release.

More information on local government finance can be found on our project page.

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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 the Local Government Finance Settlement 2016/17. CSP for 2017-18 is £44,078m.

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How many people work for local government? 

Local government is collectively one of the largest employers in England, employing 1 million full time equivalent staff.

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

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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.











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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