County council

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A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.



The county councils created under British rule in 1899 continue to exist in Ireland, although they are now governed under legislation passed by Oireachtas Éireann, principally the Local Government Reform Act 2014.



The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 introduced county councils to Ireland. The administrative and financial business carried by county grand juries and county at large presentment sessions were transferred to the new councils. Principal among these duties were the maintenance of highways and bridges, the upkeep and inspection of lunatic asylums and the appointment of coroners. The new bodies also took over some duties from poor law boards of guardians in relation to diseases of cattle and from the justices of the peace to regulate explosives. [1]

The Irish county councils differed in constitution from those in Great Britain. Most of the council was directly elected: each county was divided by the Local Government Board for Ireland into electoral divisions, each returning a single councillor for a three-year term. In addition urban districts were to form electoral divisions: depending on population they could return multiple county councillors. The county councils were also to consist of "additional members":

  • The chairman of each rural district council in the county was to be an ex officio member. Where the chairman had already been elected to the council or was disqualified, the RDC was to appoint another member of their council to be an additional member.
  • The council could also co-opt one or two additional members for a three-year term.

The first county council elections were held on 6 April 1899, and the first business of their inaugural meetings being the appointment of additional members. [2] The triennial elections were postponed in 1914 on the outbreak of World War I.

The Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1919 introduced proportional representation to county councils: all councillors were to be elected by single transferable vote from multi-member electoral areas. [3] There was only one election under the new system, held in January 1920 (in urban areas) and on 2 June 1920 (in rural areas), during the Irish War of Independence.

1922 to present

The Irish Free State inherited the local authorities created by the United Kingdom legislation of 1898 and 1919, and elections were held on 23 June 1925. The first native legislation was the Local Government Act 1925. The act abolished rural district councils (except in County Dublin) and passed their powers to the county councils. At the following election all county councils were to be increased: the number of extra councillors was to be twice the number of abolished rural districts. The act set out the powers and duties of county councils and also gave the Minister for Local Government the power to dissolve councils if he was satisfied that "the duties of a local council are not being duly and effectually discharged". He could order new elections to be held, or transfer the power and properties of the council "to any body or persons or person he shall think fit". [4] The power was widely used by ministers of all parties. For example, Kerry County Council was dissolved from 1930 to 1932, and from 1945 to 1948, with commissioners appointed to perform the council's function. [5]

The number of county councils was increased from 27 to 29 in 1994 when the Local Government (Dublin) Act 1993 split County Dublin into three counties: Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Fingal and South Dublin. [6]

Since 2014 there are 28 county councils in operation, following the merger of North Tipperary and South Tipperary County Councils into a single Tipperary County Council, under the provisions of the Local Government Reform Act 2014.


Changhua County Council building Zhang Hua Xian Yi Hui .JPG
Changhua County Council building

In the Republic of China, a county council governs each county. Members of the councils are elected through local elections held every 4–5 years. From the two provinces of the Republic of China, their county councils are

Taiwan Province

County councils of Taiwan Province are Changhua County Council, Chiayi County Council, Hsinchu County Council, Hualien County Council, Miaoli County Council, Nantou County Council, Penghu County Council, Pingtung County Council, Taitung County Council, Yilan County Council and Yunlin County Council.

Fujian Province

County councils of Fujian Province are Kinmen County Council and Lienchiang County Council.

United Kingdom

County councils were formed in the late 19th century. In the various constituent countries of the United Kingdom councils had different powers and different memberships. Following local government reforms in the 1970s, county councils no longer exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland. In England they generally form the top level in a two-tier system of administration; in Wales they are unitary authorities.


In England county councils were introduced in 1889, and reformed in 1974. Since the mid-1990s a series of local government reorganisations has reduced the number of county councils as unitary authorities have been established in a number of areas. County councils are very large employers with a great variety of functions including education (schools and youth services), social services, highways, fire and rescue services, libraries, waste disposal, consumer services and town and country planning. Until the 1990s they also ran colleges of further education and the careers services. That decade also saw the privatisation of some traditional services, such as highway maintenance, cleaning and school meals.


County councils were created by the Local Government Act 1888, largely taking over the administrative functions of the unelected county courts of quarter sessions. [7] County councils consisted of councillors, directly elected by the electorate; and county aldermen, chosen by the council itself. There was one county alderman for every three councillors (one for every six in the London County Council). [8] The first elections to the councils were held at various dates in January 1889, and they served as "provisional" or shadow councils until 1 April, when they came into their powers. [9] [10] Elections of all councillors and half of the aldermen took place every three years thereafter. [8] The areas over which the councils had authority were designated as administrative counties. The writ of the county councils did not extend everywhere: large towns and some historic counties corporate were constituted county boroughs by the same act. County borough councils were independent of the council for the county in which they were geographically situated, and exercised the functions of both county and district councils. [7] The new system was a major modernisation, which reflected the increasing range of functions carried out by local government in late Victorian Britain. A major accretion of powers took place when education was added to county council responsibilities in 1902. [11] County councils were responsible for more strategic services in a region, with (from 1894) smaller urban district councils and rural district councils responsible for other activities. The Local Government Act 1929 considerably increased the powers of county councils, who took charge of highways in rural districts. [12]

In 1965 there was a reduction in the number of county councils. The London Government Act 1963 abolished those of London and Middlesex and created the Greater London Council. Greater London was declared to be an "area" and not to lie in any county. [13] In addition two pairs of administrative counties were merged to become Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Huntingdon and Peterborough under recommendations made by the Local Government Commission for England. [14] The Local Government Act 1972 completely reorganised local authorities in England and Wales. County boroughs were abolished and the whole of England (apart from Greater London) was placed in a two-tier arrangement with county councils and district councils. In the six largest conurbations metropolitan county councils, with increased powers, were created. The post of county alderman was abolished, and the entire council was thereafter directly elected every four years. In 1986 the six metropolitan county councils were abolished, with their functions transferred to the metropolitan boroughs and joint boards. [15] The Local Government Act 1992 established a new Local Government Commission whose remit was to conduct a review of the structure of local administration, and the introduction of unitary authorities where appropriate. Accordingly, the number of county councils was reduced: Avon, Berkshire, Cleveland, Hereford and Worcester and Humberside were abolished, while Worcestershire County Council was re-established. The reforms somewhat blurred the distinction between county and district council. The Isle of Wight county council became a unitary authority, renamed the "Isle of Wight Council". [16] Conversely, two unitary district councils added the word "county" to their titles to become "Rutland County Council District Council" and "County of Herefordshire District Council". [17] [18]

21st-century reforms

A further wave of local government reform took place in April 2009 under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. Following invitations from central government in 2007, a number of county councils and their associated districts examined ways in which local government provision could be rationalised, mainly in the form of abolishing the existing county and district councils and establishing one-tier authorities for all or parts of these existing counties. As a result, the status of some of these (mainly) more rural counties changed. Cornwall, Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire became unitary authorities providing all services. Some of these councils have dropped the word "county" from their titles. Bedfordshire and Cheshire county councils were abolished with more than one unitary council established within the boundaries of the abolished council. Other county councils remained unchanged, particularly in the heavily populated parts of England such as the south-east. Further minor local government reforms took place in 2019-20, which led to Dorset and Buckinghamshire also becoming unitary authorities providing all services.

Northern Ireland

County councils existed in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1973.

Following partition, six administrative counties remained within the United Kingdom as part of Northern Ireland. Local government came under the control of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, who quickly introduced the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, abolishing proportional representation. Electoral districts were redrawn, and a property qualification for voters introduced, ensuring Unionist controlled councils in counties with Nationalist majorities. [19] In 1968 Fermanagh County Council was reconstituted as a unitary authority. County councils were abolished under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 in 1973. The only local authorities since that date have been district councils.


In Scotland county councils existed from 1890 to 1975. They were created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 and reconstituted forty years later by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. County councils were abolished in 1975 when a system of large regional councils was introduced. Regions were themselves abolished in 1996 and replaced by the current unitary council areas.


In Scotland control of county administration was in the hands of Commissioners of Supply. This was a body of the principal landowners liable to pay land tax, and was unelected. The first elections to Scottish county councils took place in February 1890. [20] Only the councillors for the "landward" part of the county were elected however. The remainder of the council were co-opted by the town councils of the burghs in the county. Scottish county councils also differed from those in England and Wales as they were required to divide their county into districts. A district committee of the county councillors elected for the area were an independent local council for some administrative purposes. [21]

In 1930 the Scottish county councils were completely reconstituted. Their powers were increased in small burghs. On the other hand, large burghs became independent of the county for most purposes. The district committees created in 1890 were abolished and replaced by district councils, partly consisting of county councillors and partly of directly elected district councillors. Two joint county councils were created, for Perthshire and Kinross-shire and Moray and Nairnshire. The county councils also gained the duties of the abolished education authorities. [22]


Since 1996 Wales has been divided into unitary principal areas. Councils were designated by the legislation that created them as either "county councils" or "county borough councils". [23] County and county borough councils have identical powers.


Prior to 1996 local government in Wales was similar to that in England. Thus the county councils introduced in 1889 were identical to their English counterparts. The Local Government Commission for Wales appointed under the Local Government Act 1958 recommended a reduction in the number of county councils in Wales and Monmouthshire from thirteen to seven, but reform did not take place until 1974. [24]

From 1 April 1974 the number of counties and county councils was reduced to eight in number. Like the county councils introduced in England at the same time, the whole council was elected every four years. There was a slightly different division of powers between county and district councils, however. The county and district councils were abolished twenty-two years later, when the present system of principal areas was introduced.

United States

In the United States, most of the individual states have counties as a form of local government; in nine states, they are headed by a county council. These states are South Carolina (all counties), Indiana (all but one county), Louisiana (19 parishes), Maryland (11 counties), [25] Utah (7 counties), Washington (5 counties), Pennsylvania (4 counties), Ohio (2 counties), Florida (1 county), In other states, each county is headed by a county commission, county board of supervisors, a board of chosen freeholders in New Jersey, a Commissioner's (or Quorum/Fiscal) Court in Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kentucky, or a Police Jury in Louisiana.

New England has the weakest county governments in the nation. County governments were abolished in Connecticut and much of Massachusetts. In Vermont, counties are a means of re-distributing funds authorized by the state. There is no actual county government.

Other countries

The term county council is sometimes used in English for regional municipal bodies in other countries.

Both Swedish and Norwegian county councils are directly elected by their inhabitants. There are some differences between them in responsibilities.

Related Research Articles

A unitary authority is a type of local authority that has a single tier and is responsible for all local government functions within its area or performs additional functions which elsewhere in the relevant country are usually performed by national government or a higher level of sub-national government.

Districts of England Level of subnational division of England used for the purposes of local government

The districts of England are a level of subnational division of England used for the purposes of local government. As the structure of local government in England is not uniform, there are currently four principal types of district-level subdivision. There are a total of 314 districts made up of 36 metropolitan boroughs, 32 London boroughs, 188 non-metropolitan districts, and 56 unitary authorities, as well as the City of London and the Isles of Scilly which are also districts, but do not correspond to any of these categories. Some districts are styled as boroughs, cities, or royal boroughs; these are purely honorific titles, and do not alter the status of the district. All boroughs and cities, and a few districts, are led by a mayor who in most cases is a ceremonial figure elected by the district council, but—after local government reform—is occasionally a directly elected mayor who makes most of the policy decisions instead of the council.

County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control, similar to the unitary authorities created since the 1990s. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland they remain in existence but have been renamed cities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2001. The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 re-introduced the term for certain "principal areas" in Wales. Scotland did not have county boroughs but instead counties of cities. These were abolished on 16 May 1975. All four Scottish cities of the time—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow—were included in this category. There was an additional category of large burgh in the Scottish system, which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.

Local government in England System of state administration on a local level in England

The pattern of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to the local arrangements.

Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland that established a system of local government in Ireland similar to that already created for England, Wales and Scotland by legislation in 1888 and 1889. The Act effectively ended landlord control of local government in Ireland.

In England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, an urban district was a type of local government district that covered an urbanised area. Urban districts had an elected urban district council (UDC), which shared local government responsibilities with a county council.

Rural district Former type of local government area in England, Wales, and Ireland

Rural districts were a type of local government area – now superseded – established at the end of the 19th century in England, Wales, and Ireland for the administration of predominantly rural areas at a level lower than that of the administrative counties.

Municipal boroughs were a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1835 and 1974, in Northern Ireland from 1840 to 1973 and in the Republic of Ireland from 1840 to 2002. Broadly similar structures existed in Scotland from 1833 to 1975 with the reform of royal burghs and creation of police burghs.

Local Government Act 1972 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1972 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974. It was one of the most significant Acts of Parliament to be passed by the Heath Government of 1970–74 and is surpassed only by the European Communities Act 1972 which took the United Kingdom into the European Communities.

The structure of local government in the United Kingdom underwent large changes in the 1990s. The system of two-tier local government introduced in the 1970s by the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 was abolished in Scotland and Wales on 1 April 1996 and replaced with single-tier authorities. In England, some areas remained two-tier but many single-tier authorities were created. No changes were made to local government in Northern Ireland.

Local government in the Republic of Ireland Tier of administration in Ireland

Local government in the Republic of Ireland's functions are mostly exercised by thirty-one local authorities, termed County, City, or City and County Councils. The principal decision-making body in each of the thirty-one local authorities is composed of the members of the council, elected by universal franchise in local elections every five years. Irish Local Authorities are the closest and most accessible form of Government to people in their local community. Many of the authorities' statutory functions are, however, the responsibility of ministerially appointed career officials termed Chief executives. The competencies of the city and county councils include planning, transport infrastructure, sanitary services, public safety and the provision of public libraries.

Non-metropolitan district Type of local government district in England

Non-metropolitan districts, or colloquially "shire districts", are a type of local government district in England. As created, they are sub-divisions of non-metropolitan counties in a two-tier arrangement.

Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which amended the Local Government Act 1972 to create the current local government structure in Wales of 22 unitary authority areas, referred to as principal areas in the Act, and abolished the previous two-tier structure of counties and districts. It came into effect on 1 April 1996.

Counties of the United Kingdom Subnational divisions of the United Kingdom

The counties of the United Kingdom are subnational divisions of the United Kingdom, used for the purposes of administrative, geographical and political demarcation. By the Middle Ages counties had become established as a unit of local government, at least in England. By the early 17th century, all of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland had been separated into counties. The older term shire was historically equivalent to "county". In Scotland shire was the only term used until after the Act of Union 1707.

Local Government Act 1888 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1888 was an Act of Parliament which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. It came into effect on 1 April 1889, except for the County of London, which came into existence on 21 March at the request of the London County Council.

Directly elected mayors in England and Wales Local government executive leaders in England and Wales

Directly elected mayors in England and Wales are local government executive leaders who have been directly elected by the people who live in a local authority area. The first such political post was the Mayor of London, created as the executive of the Greater London Authority in 2000 as part of a reform of the local government of Greater London. Since the Local Government Act 2000, all of the several hundred principal local councils in England and Wales are required to review their executive arrangements.

The wards and electoral divisions in the United Kingdom are electoral districts at sub-national level represented by one or more councillors. The ward is the primary unit of English electoral geography for civil parishes and borough and district councils, electoral ward is the unit used by Welsh principal councils, while the electoral division is the unit used by English county councils and some unitary authorities. Each ward/division has an average electorate of about 5,500 people, but ward-population counts can vary substantially. As at the end of 2014 there were 9,456 electoral wards/divisions in the UK.

Unitary authorities of England Local government in some parts of England

Unitary authorities of England are local authorities that are responsible for the provision of all local government services within a district. They are constituted under the Local Government Act 1992, which amended the Local Government Act 1972 to allow the existence of counties that do not have multiple districts. They typically allow large towns to have separate local authorities from the less urbanised parts of their counties and provide a single authority for small counties where division into districts would be impractical. Unitary authorities do not cover all of England. Most were established during the 1990s, though further tranches were created in 2009 and 2019–20. Unitary authorities have the powers and functions that are elsewhere separately administered by councils of non-metropolitan counties and the non-metropolitan districts within them.

Nottinghamshire County Council

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The Local Government Reform Act 2014 is an act of the Oireachtas providing for a major restructuring of local government in the Republic of Ireland with effect from the 2014 local elections. It merged some first-tier county and city councils, abolished all second-tier town and borough councils, and created a new second tier of municipal districts covering rural as well as urban areas. It also provided for a plebiscite on whether to create a directly elected executive Mayor of the Dublin Region although this provision was not activated. The act was introduced as a bill on 15 October 2013 by Phil Hogan, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and signed into law on 27 January 2014 by President Michael D. Higgins. Most of its provisions came into force on 1 June 2014.


  1. Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, c.83
  2. "Ireland". The Times . 7 April 1899. p. 8.
  3. Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919, c.19
  4. "Local Government Act 1925 (No.5/1925)". Irish Statute Book . Office of the Attorney General. 1925. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
  5. Quirke, Michael P (1999). "Centenary of Local Government – Kerry County Council". The Kerry Magazine. 1 (10): 4–6.
  6. "Local Government (Dublin) Act 1993 (No.31/1993)". Irish Statute Book. Office of the Attorney General. 1993. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
  7. 1 2 Edwards, John (1955). 'County' in Chambers's Encyclopedia. LONDON: George Newnes. pp. 189–191.
  8. 1 2 Local Government Act 1888 c.41
  9. "The County Council Elections". The Times . 14 January 1889. p. 10.
  10. "The County Councils". The Times . 21 January 1889. p. 10.
  11. Education Act 1902, c.42
  12. Local Government Act 1929, c.17
  13. London Government Act 1963, c.33
  14. The Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Order (SI 1964/366), The Huntingdon and Peterborough Order 1964 (SI 1964/367)
  15. Local Government Act 1985, c.51
  16. The Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order 1994, accessed January 9, 2011
  17. "Rutland County Council District Council Constitution, accessed March 10, 2008" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 11 March 2008.
  18. County of Herefordshire District Council, accessed March 10, 2008 [ permanent dead link ]
  19. Callanan, Mark; Keogan, Justin F (2003). Local Government in Ireland: Inside Out. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. pp. 460–462. ISBN   1-902448-93-6.
  20. "Scotch County Council Elections". The Times. 7 February 1890. p. 7.
  21. Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889, c.50
  22. Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929, c.25
  23. "Schedule I: The New Principal Areas". Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 (c. 19). The National Archives. 1994. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  24. "Plan to Merge Welsh Counties into Five Areas". The Times . 25 May 1961.
  25. "Local Government – Counties website" . Retrieved 25 January 2014.