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About Levels of Government

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How has Parliament defined Local Government?

Parliament has passed legislation which has defined many aspects of UK local government.

In Scotland and Wales the devolved Parliaments have taken over responsibility for their local authorities.

Government legislation has determined:-

The boundaries and types of local authorities

The overall pattern has been changed several times since the UK first had a complete coverage of elected local authorities in 1885.

For example, in 1986 the Conservative Government abolished the top tier of authorities in metropolitan areas, normally Labour controlled. They argued that they duplicated work of the lower tier borough councils.

Labour restored a London wide authority in 1999.

The method of electing councillors in UK Local Government

In Wales and in England this is First Past the Post, except for the Greater London Authority where a proportional system was introduced.

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament changed the system to the Single Transferable Vote and this is also used in Northern Ireland to ensure that the two communities there are fairly represented.


There are services that local authorities are required to provide, such as a fire brigade and child protection.  These are called statutory services and through the 20th century local government was gradually required to take on more of these.

Local authorities may choose to do other things such as the promotion of tourism or economic development and these are called discretionary services.


Most of the money that the UK local government spend comes in the form of grants from central government.  There is also a tax on property.

There is currently the Council Tax. This is a tax based on the value of residential property and the Business Rate. This is a tax on commercial property which the Government sets and then redistributes back to local authorities.

Between 1989 and 1993 the system changed. Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher created what became known as the Poll Tax. Officially called the Community Charge, it was a tax on every adult, with only some reduction for those on lower incomes. The tax was highly unpopular and contributed to Mrs Thatcher’s fall from office.

Internal Operations

To some degree Governments have set rules for the internal operation of local authorities.

For example, in 2000, all but the smallest councils were required to move from a system of committees, in which all councillors took decisions, to either an elected mayor or a cabinet.

These systems moved the power to take decisions and other councillors could only monitor those executive decisions.