Part 1: So, who and what are locally elected members?
With local government responsible for a range of vital services, and around 20,000 locally elected members in the UK, we look into who and what they are.
Local government is responsible for a range of vital services across their designated geographic areas delivering more than 800 different types of service. This includes democratic services, social care, schools, housing, planning and waste collection.
First of all, local authorities consist of one or two tiers or combined authorities:
25 county councils/188 district, borough or city councils
One (unitary) tier:
57 unitary councils/33 London boroughs/36 metropolitan boroughs
Combined Authorities (two or more working across their boundaries):
There are 10,000 parish and town councils in England, 1,200 in Scotland, 730 in Wales, and none in Northern Ireland. On top of this there are 10 National Parks responsible for conservation and promotion of scenic areas, as well as local authorities responsible specifically for policing and fire and rescue services.
Whilst it is possible to understand the overall structure, individual councils have unique structures with functions that are grouped together differently within each individual organisation. This is not only based on the need to deliver against their local priorities, but it’s also to do with the local preferences of the individuals running each council.
It is perhaps questionable whether such diversity is necessary or contributes to the effectiveness of an authority. Whilst ICT has been used to make councils more understandable and accessible this does perhaps put less emphasis on the standardisation of structures to optimise value and performance.
Spend across all local authorities can be summarised as follows:
- Education – £33.6bn
- Adult Social Care – £15.6bn
- Children Social Care – £8bn
- Housing – £1.5bn
- Public Health – £3.4bn
- Culture, Environment and Planning – £8.3bn
- Highways and Transport – £4.2bn
In addition to this we can see an extra £1.6bn being made available in 2020 for the specific costs associated with the pandemic COVID-19.
According to an LGA census in 2018 showed there are 17,700 councillors in England, 1,264 in Wales, 1,223 in Scotland and 462 in Northern Ireland. The average ratio of councillors to the population in England is 3,163, but this various significantly between authorities.
Also, 64% of elected members are male, 36% female, 96% are white, their average age is 59, 45% are retired, 16% have a long-term health problem/disability. Their average length of service is 9.2 years (47% having served for up to 5 years while 11% had done so for more than 20 years).
The vast majority of authorities have policies based on their being representative of the communities they service, which given the demographics above certainly must be a cause of concern.
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