local councils

local councils
   There are several levels of local councils, ranging from parish councils to borough, district and county councils. Generally, the turnout at local elections is relatively low compared to national parliamentary elections, and the results are often determined by the national political struggle rather than by local issues or personalities. Results of elections are sometimes biased according to local and personal factors, and sometimes according to national factors. Local councils provide services at the borough level and are democratic institutions that allow closer public scrutiny than is often the case with national government. Local governments have limited autonomy and can only exert power over matters granted by parliamentary legislation. Local councils’ largest source of income is in the form of grants from central government. The rest comes from local taxation, in particular the council tax, a property-based tax. Increasingly, central government has taken over many of the functions traditionally carried out by local governments, and other functions have been relegated to private enterprise. Local councils have lost control over gas, electricity, some healthcare areas, and public transport. Water, sewerage and drainage have now been privatized. Some local autonomy exists in educational structures, such as school curriculum and teaching methods, but with the 1988 Education Act and the Labour government’s agenda to increase standards and inspect schools, this autonomy has been diminished in favour of increasing control by the central government of the school curriculum. Councils retain nominal control over some aspects of the local police, fire services, planning, social services and recreational matters but in practice, they are subservient to increasing central control in all these areas.
   There are clear tensions in the relationship between local and central government and different views on how independent local councils should be from central government. Central government has made major changes in the infrastructure of local authorities. The primary shift has been a significant increase in centralization, a program of centrally declared standards, and a decline in local autonomy. These underlying principles have recently guided and continue to guide the relation between state and local councils. The present government’s ostensible commitment to devolution and to the creation of an elected authority and mayor for London might have the side effect of increasing the relative autonomy of local government.
   See also: GLC
   Further reading
    Elcock, H. (1994) Local Government; Policy Management in Local Authorities, 3rd edn, London: Routledge.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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