Unitary authorities of England

Last updated

Unitary authority
English unitary authorities map 2021.svg
Category Local authority districts
LocationEngland
Found in Regions
Number58 (as of 2021)
Possible status
Populations40,000–550,000

The unitary authorities of England are those local authorities which 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 originally provided a single authority for small counties where division into districts would be impractical. However the government has more recently proposed the formation of much larger unitary authorities, including a single authority for North Yorkshire, the largest non-metropolitan county in England, at present divided into seven districts. [1]

Contents

Unitary authorities do not cover all of England. Most were established during the 1990s, though further tranches were created in 2009 and 2019–21. 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.

History

Background

The term "unitary authority" was first used in the Redcliffe-Maud Report in 1969 in its current sense of a local government authority which combines the functions of a county council and a district council. [2] Strictly speaking, the term does not necessarily mean a single level of local government within an area, because in some cases there are also parish councils in the same area.

Although the term was not applied to them, county boroughs between 1889 and 1974 were effectively unitary authorities, that is, single-tier administrative units. Before 1889, local government authorities had different powers and functions, but from medieval times some cities and towns had a high degree of autonomy as counties corporate. Some smaller settlements also enjoyed some degree of autonomy from regular administration as boroughs or liberties.

The Local Government Act 1972 created areas for local government where large towns and their rural hinterlands were administered together. The concept of unitary units was abandoned with a two-tier arrangement of county and district councils in all areas of England, except the Isles of Scilly where the small size and distance from the mainland made it impractical. In 1986 a broadly unitary system of local government was introduced in the six metropolitan counties and Greater London, where the upper-tier authorities were abolished and their functions were split between central government, the borough councils and joint boards. [3]

1990s reform

A review in the 1990s was initiated to select non-metropolitan areas where new unitary authorities could be created. [4] The resulting structural changes were implemented between 1995 and 1998. Bristol, Herefordshire, the Isle of Wight and Rutland were established as counties of a single district; the district councils of Berkshire became unitary; the counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were broken up to create several unitary authorities; and a number of districts were split off from their associated counties. [3] The changes caused the ceremonial counties to be defined separately, as they had been before 1974. The review caused 46 unitary authorities to be created. [3]

2009 changes

A further review was initiated in 2007 and was enacted in 2009. The review established Cornwall and Northumberland as counties of a single district; established unitary authorities in County Durham, Shropshire and Wiltshire covering the part of the county that was not already split off in the 1990s review; and divided the remainder of Bedfordshire and Cheshire into two unitary authorities. The review caused nine unitary authorities to be created.

Further reform

In 2016, Oxfordshire County Council put forward a 'One Oxfordshire' proposal which would see Oxford City Council and the four other district councils in Oxfordshire abolished and replaced with a single unitary county council for Oxfordshire. In 2017, Oxford City Council voiced their opposition to the proposal. A decision on whether the proposal will go ahead was to have been announced in March 2017.[ citation needed ]

In 2017, it was proposed that two unitary authorities be formed to cover the ceremonial county of Dorset. One of the authorities would consist of the existing unitary authorities of Bournemouth, Poole and the non-metropolitan district of Christchurch, the other would be composed of the remainder of the county. [5] In November 2017, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid stated that he was "minded to approve the proposals" and a final decision to implement the two unitary authority model was confirmed in February 2018. Statutory instruments for the creation of two unitary authorities, to be named Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and Dorset Council, have been made and shadow authorities for the new council areas were formed ahead of their creation on 1 April 2019. [6] [7]

Buckinghamshire County Council and the non-metropolitan districts of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks, and Wycombe in Buckinghamshire were replaced by a single unitary authority known as Buckinghamshire Council on 1 April 2020. The existing unitary authority of Milton Keynes was not affected; from 1 April 2020, therefore, the ceremonial county of Buckinghamshire has been composed of two unitary authorities. [8] [9]

In March 2018, an independent report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, proposed structural changes to local government in Northamptonshire. These changes would see the existing county council and district councils abolished and two new unitary authorities created in their place. [10] One authority, West Northamptonshire, would consist of the existing districts of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire and the other authority, North Northamptonshire would consist of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough districts. [11] This was confirmed in May 2019, with the new councils being created in April 2021.

In July 2021 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that in April 2023, the non-metropolitan counties of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset will be reorganised into unitary authorities. [12] The new authorities, Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, North Yorkshire Council and Somerset Council were first elected in May 2022 and will formally assume their powers on 1 April 2023.

Restructuring

The process of changing from a two-tier local government to a structure based on unitary authorities is called 'restructuring'. The Secretary of State responsible for local government invites proposals from local areas to restructure into unitary authorities, and the Secretary decides whether or not the change should be implemented. The restructuring is carried out by an Order. There are no examples in the UK of councils restructuring back into a two-tier system. [13]

Functions

Unitary authorities combine the powers and functions that are normally delivered separately by the councils of non-metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan districts. These functions are housing, waste management, waste collection, council tax collection, education, libraries, social services, transport, planning, consumer protection, licensing, cemeteries and crematoria. The breakdown of these services is as follows: [14]

Service Non-metropolitan county Non-metropolitan district Unitary authority
EducationYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
HousingYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Planning applicationsYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Strategic planningYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Transport planningYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Passenger transportYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
HighwaysYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
FireYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Social servicesYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
LibrariesYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Leisure and recreationYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Waste collectionYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Waste disposalYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Environmental healthYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Revenue collectionYes check.svgYYes check.svgY

Criticism

Unitary government has been criticised for damaging local democracy. Opponents to unitary authority criticise the 'bigger is better' assumption and highlight that larger councils breed mistrust of councillors and reduction in public engagement and voter turnout. Outside the UK, multi-level local government is the prevailing system, with major towns normally having a local authority. The average size of a local authority in England is 170,000, three times that of Europe. [15]

Electoral arrangements

Most unitary authorities are divided into a number of multiple member wards from which councillors are elected in the same way as in two-tier district council elections. The exceptions, which are divided into electoral divisions as in county council elections, are Cornwall, County Durham, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire. [16]

Current unitary authorities

Most unitary authorities are legally defined as being coterminous non-metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan districts run by a single council. While it makes no difference, they can either be run by a county council that additionally has district powers and functions, or a district council that additionally has county powers and functions. If there is a county council, the district has no council, and vice versa. Districts can additionally have the status of borough or city, although this has no effect on their powers or functions.

Unitary AuthorityCouncilCreatedRun byCeremonial County
Bath and North East Somerset [17] Bath and North East Somerset Council 1996District Somerset
Bedford [18] Bedford Borough Council 2009District Bedfordshire
Blackburn with Darwen [19] Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council 1998District Lancashire
Blackpool [19] Blackpool Council 1998District Lancashire
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole [20] Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council 2019District Dorset
Bracknell Forest [21] Bracknell Forest Borough Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
Brighton and Hove [22] Brighton and Hove City Council 1997District East Sussex
Bristol [17] Bristol City Council 1996District Bristol
Buckinghamshire [23] Buckinghamshire Council 2020County Buckinghamshire
Central Bedfordshire [18] Central Bedfordshire Council 2009District Bedfordshire
Cheshire East [24] Cheshire East Council 2009District Cheshire
Cheshire West and Chester [24] Cheshire West and Chester Council 2009District Cheshire
Cornwall [25] Cornwall Council 2009County Cornwall
County Durham [26] Durham County Council 2009County County Durham
Darlington [27] Darlington Borough Council 1997District County Durham
Derby [28] Derby City Council 1997District Derbyshire
Dorset [20] Dorset Council 2019County Dorset
East Riding of Yorkshire [29] East Riding of Yorkshire Council 1996District East Riding of Yorkshire
Halton [30] Halton Borough Council 1998District Cheshire
Hartlepool [31] Hartlepool Borough Council 1996District County Durham
Herefordshire [32] Herefordshire Council 1998District Herefordshire
Isle of Wight [33] Isle of Wight Council 1995County Isle of Wight
Kingston upon Hull [29] Hull City Council 1996District East Riding of Yorkshire
Leicester [34] Leicester City Council 1997District Leicestershire
Luton [35] Luton Borough Council 1997District Bedfordshire
Medway [36] Medway Council 1998District Kent
Middlesbrough [31] Middlesbrough Council 1996District North Yorkshire
Milton Keynes [37] Milton Keynes Council 1997District Buckinghamshire
North East Lincolnshire [29] North East Lincolnshire Council 1996District Lincolnshire
North Lincolnshire [29] North Lincolnshire Council 1996District Lincolnshire
North Northamptonshire North Northamptonshire Council 2021District Northamptonshire
North Somerset [17] North Somerset Council 1996District Somerset
Northumberland [38] Northumberland County Council 2009County Northumberland
Nottingham [39] Nottingham City Council 1998District Nottinghamshire
Peterborough [40] Peterborough City Council 1998District Cambridgeshire
Plymouth [41] Plymouth City Council 1998District Devon
Portsmouth [42] Portsmouth City Council 1997District Hampshire
Reading [21] Reading Borough Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
Redcar and Cleveland [31] Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council 1996District North Yorkshire
Rutland [34] Rutland County Council District Council 1997District Rutland
Shropshire [43] Shropshire Council 2009County Shropshire
Slough [21] Slough Borough Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
Southampton [42] Southampton City Council 1997District Hampshire
Southend-on-Sea [44] Southend-on-Sea City Council 1998District Essex
South Gloucestershire [17] South Gloucestershire Council 1996District Gloucestershire
Stockton-on-Tees [31] Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council 1996District County Durham and North Yorkshire
Stoke-on-Trent [45] Stoke-on-Trent City Council 1998District Staffordshire
Swindon [46] Swindon Borough Council 1998District Wiltshire
Telford and Wrekin [47] Telford and Wrekin Borough Council 1998District Shropshire
Thurrock [44] Thurrock Council 1998District Essex
Torbay [41] Torbay Council 1998District Devon
Warrington [30] Warrington Borough Council 1998District Cheshire
West Berkshire [21] West Berkshire Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
West Northamptonshire West Northamptonshire Council 2021District Northamptonshire
Wiltshire [48] Wiltshire Council 2009County Wiltshire
Windsor and Maidenhead [21] Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
Wokingham [21] Wokingham Borough Council 1998District [lower-alpha 1] Berkshire
York [49] City of York Council 1996District North Yorkshire

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 The non-metropolitan county of Berkshire was not abolished. Its council was abolished with districts taking on its functions. Unlike most unitary authorities, Berkshire's districts are not non-metropolitan counties.

Future unitary authorities

Four new unitary authorities will come into operation in 2023:

Unitary AuthorityCouncilCreatedRun byCeremonial County
Cumberland [50] Cumberland Council 2023District Cumbria
North Yorkshire [51] North Yorkshire Council 2023County North Yorkshire
Somerset [52] Somerset Council 2023County Somerset
Westmorland and Furness [50] Westmorland and Furness Council 2023District Cumbria

Former unitary authorities

UnitAuthorityFormedReformedCeremonial CountyReplacement
Bournemouth Bournemouth Borough Council 19972019 Dorset Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Poole Poole Borough Council

Similar authorities

The Council of the Isles of Scilly is a sui generis single-tier authority, created in 1890 and since 1930 has held the "powers, duties and liabilities" of a county council. [53] It thus is not a unitary authority as those are such authorities created under the Local Government Act 1992. The 36 metropolitan borough councils are also the sole elected local government units in their areas (except for parish councils in a few locations), but share strategic functions with joint boards and arrangements. On the other hand, the City of London Corporation and the 32 London borough councils, although they have a high degree of autonomy, share strategic functions with the directly elected Mayor of London and London Assembly.

Combined authorities

Unitary authorities should not be confused with another formation in English local government, the combined authority.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Counties of England Englands administrative, geographical and political demarcation

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Ceremonial counties of England Category of areas in England

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Local Government Act 1972 United Kingdom legislation

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Non-metropolitan county County-level entity in England that is not a metropolitan county

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Non-metropolitan district Type of local government district in England

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Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England Subdivisions of England

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Buckinghamshire County Council Former upper-tier local authority for Buckinghamshire, England

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Local Government Commission for England (1992)

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West Northamptonshire Unitary authority area in England

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The history of local government in Yorkshire is unique and complex. Yorkshire is the largest historic English county and consists of a diverse mix of urban and rural development with a heritage in agriculture, manufacturing, and mining. After a long period with little change, it has been subject to a number of reforms of local government structures in modern times, some of which were controversial. The most significant of these were the Local Government Act 1972 and the 1990s UK local government reform. The historic area currently corresponds to several counties and districts and is mostly contained within the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

Cleveland (county) Former county of North East England

Cleveland was a ceremonial county located in northern England. It was created in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, and named after the historic area of Cleveland, Yorkshire. The county was abolished in 1996. The area was partitioned between the four boroughs of Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, Middlesbrough and Langbaurgh-on-Tees, the latter of which took its name from the former Langbaurgh East. The county town was Middlesbrough. The administrative county bordered County Durham to the north and North Yorkshire to the south, and it faced the North Sea to the east. Cleveland had a total area of 225 square miles (583 km2). The legacy of the county lives on in some public bodies, such as Cleveland Police.

Combined authority Type of local government institution in England

A combined authority is a type of local government institution introduced in England outside Greater London by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Combined authorities are created voluntarily and allow a group of local authorities to pool appropriate responsibility and receive certain delegated functions from central government in order to deliver transport and economic policy more effectively over a wider area.

Northampton Borough Council

Northampton Borough Council was the borough council and non-metropolitan district responsible for local government in the large town of Northampton in England. In 2021 the council was abolished and succeeded by West Northamptonshire Council; a unitary authority, and the Northampton Town Council, a parish council.

2015 United Kingdom local elections Elections

The 2015 United Kingdom local elections were held on Thursday 7 May 2015, the same day as the general election for the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

2021 United Kingdom local elections Elections in the United Kingdom

Local elections in England and Wales were held on 6 May 2021 for more than 145 English local councils for around 5,000 seats, thirteen directly elected mayors in England, and 39 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. There were also elections to the Scottish Parliament, Senedd and London Assembly, the last in conjunction with the London mayoral election. Also on the same day as these local elections, there was a UK Parliament by-election for the constituency of Hartlepool.

Structural changes to local government in England have taken place between 2019 and 2021, and will potentially continue in 2023. Some of these changes continue the trend of new unitary authorities being created from other types of local government districts, which was a policy of Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick from 2019.

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