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Local councils

Here you can find out more about local councils, including how they are made up and what they are responsible for.

On this page, you will find out about local councils, including:

  • what they do
  • the different types of local councils
  • how and when they are elected

What do local councils do?

Councils are responsible for providing local services and facilities.

Your elected representatives or councillors represent you at a local level – this is known as local government.

Depending on where you live, your council is responsible for all or some of the following areas:

  • Council housing
  • Education services
  • Electoral registration
  • Environmental health
  • Leisure and recreation facilities
  • Libraries
  • Local planning
  • Local transport
  • Parks and public places
  • Regulation of local business
  • Roads and footpaths
  • Social services
  • Waste and recycling

What type of council do I have?

There are different types of councils in the UK and the type of council you have depends on where you live.

If you live in London or in one of the larger cities in England, you will have a London Borough or Metropolitan District Council (MDC). MDCs cover places like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. These councils provide all local services.

If you live in Scotland or Wales, you will have a unitary authority. There are also unitary authorities in some medium-sized towns and cities in England, like Reading or Nottingham. These councils provide all local services, but may cover a wider area, for example Bath and North East Somerset.

There are 11 local councils in Northern Ireland. Councils have a range of roles and responsibilities, including providing certain services and representation, from leisure and recreation to recycling and waste management.

Find out more about the of local councils in Northern Ireland.

In some rural or semi-rural parts of England, local government is split between a county council and a district council. County councils cover large areas, like Devon or Kent, and provide about 80 per cent of services for that area. District councils cover smaller areas and provide more locally-based services.

Below is a list of what each type of council provide:

County Council District Council
Education services Council housing
Fire and public safety Council Tax
Libraries Electoral registration
Social Services Environmental health
Streets and roads Leisure and recreation facilities
Trading standards Local planning
Transport Recycling
Waste management  

In England, some towns and London Boroughs also have their own directly elected mayor.

As well as local councils, the UK also has around 10,000 parish, town and community councils. These form the most local level of local government.

Parish councils in England and community councils in Scotland and Wales are responsible for things like:

  • allotments
  • bus shelters
  • car parks
  • public toilets
  • cemeteries
  • footpath lighting
  • litter bins
  • local halls and community centres
  • parks and public ponds
  • public clocks
  • war memorials

How are they elected?

When you vote in a local election, you will receive a ballot paper listing all the candidates standing to be a councillor in your area.

You may be asked to vote for more than one candidate depending on where you live.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland you will be asked to rank the candidates in order of preference.

When are they elected?

Each councillor is elected for four years, but when you have an opportunity to elect them depends on the type of council you have in your area and what voting method it uses.

Voting by thirds

If your council votes by thirds, this means that a third of councillors are elected every year over a four year cycle (with no elections in the fourth year).

Voting by halves

If your council elects by halves, half of the councillors are elected every two years.

Other local authorities, such as the London Boroughs, elect all of their councillors every four years.

Whatever method your local authority uses, you will be able to vote in local elections at least once every four years.

Who is eligible to vote?

To vote in a local council election a person must be registered to vote, 18 years or over on polling day in England, Northern Ireland and Wales or 16 years or over on polling day in Scotland, and also:

  • a British or Irish citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, or a citizen of the European Union
  • resident in the UK
  • not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote

The following cannot vote in a local council election:

  • anyone other than British or Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizens
  • convicted persons detained in pursuance of their sentences, excluding contempt of court (though remand prisoners, unconvicted prisoners and civil prisoners can vote if they are on the electoral register)
  • anyone found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election

Find out more information about who is eligible to vote

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