About Levels of Government
What services does UK Local Government provide compared to UK central government?
In the UK Local authorities are required by law to provide some 1200 services. These range from maintaining graveyards, to ensuring that asbestos is disposed of safely, to giving grants to disabled people to adapt their homes, to agreeing licences for pubs and clubs. These are called ‘statutory’ UK local government services.
The main statutory services
- Running schools. Many schools have become academies or are free schools. This means central government is mainly responsible for these.
- Maintaining local roads and street lighting and managing traffic and road safety.
- Caring for older people at home who have difficulty looking after themselves. Caring for people with a disability or mental health needs.
- Dealing with people who are homeless.
- Waste collection and disposal, street cleaning and recycling.
- Protecting children from harm and organising adoption.
- Deciding planning applications and protecting trees and historic buildings.
- Providing a library service.
Additional UK local government services
Local authorities have also traditionally provided a range of other services. They are not required to by law but they are important. These are called discretionary services.
These include areas such as youth centres, maintaining parks, supporting sport and the arts and promoting tourism.
In addition, local councils have generally tried to coordinate activities to deal with local problems, for example bringing together businesses and local organisations to regenerate town centres.
From 2010, under austerity measures, the Coalition government drastically cut back the grant it gave to local authorities. This meant money went into statutory services and discretionary services suffered the highest cuts.
UK Central Government Services
In contrast, Central Government is all the organisations that are controlled directly or indirectly by Government Ministers. The main ones are:-
- The Departments of State. This includes the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Work and Pensions. These carry out an area of Government policy. They are headed by a prominent politician, the Secretary of State, who is a member of the Cabinet. Many areas of policy such as transport or agriculture are devolved to the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means the Departments of State have only English responsibilities in these areas.
- Departmental Agencies are responsible to the Departments of State. They have been separated from them because they carry out detailed functions that do not require such detailed political control. The Secretary of State sets broad objectives but a Chief Executive is responsible for the running of the Agency and for its budget. Examples are the Highways Agency, which manages motorways and trunk roads for the Department of Transport, and the Legal Aid Agency, part of the Ministry of Justice, which provides help for people to fight their case in the courts.
- There are a range of Non-Departmental Public Bodies. These are often referred to as Quangos. They are semi-independent and provide specialist services or advice. This ranges from the Advisory Committee on Pesticides to the Bank of England. The government appoints the people who run them, such as the Governor of the Bank of England, and may set requirements such as the need for the Governor to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if inflation rises above 3%
- There are some independent Government Departments. They need to be kept independent of political control so that their statements and decisions can be seen as independent. This includes the Food Standards Agency and Ofqual which supervises national examinations.
- The National Health Service for England is effectively an Agency within the Department of Health and the NHS Trusts that run hospitals and the Clinical Commissioning Groups that run GP surgeries are responsible to it. The health services in other parts of the UK are run by the devolved governments.