Although the central government has overarching power in the UK, local governments, known as councils, have a huge responsibility to ensure their local public is kept safe and happy. Local governments exist in all UK countries but the system and their responsibilities vary from country to country.
The UK is split into individual counties, or regions. Each county has a county council. They have ultimate responsibility in their region, including education, transport and parking, planning, social care, fire and public safety as well as neighbourhood services, such as libraries, waste management and trading standards.
Each county is split into individual smaller areas called districts or boroughs. In these areas, there are smaller councils, who are responsible for more local issues, including rubbish collection and recycling, housing and planning applications, birth, death and marriage registration, motorways and roads as well as the amount of council tax to be paid.
Almost all areas across the UK will therefore have both county and district/borough councils, known as the two tiers of local government. There are a few areas, particularly large metropolitan areas, that have unitary authorities as opposed to two tiers of local government. This centralises all the responsibilities with one authority. This is mostly carried out in London but also in other large metropolitan areas.
Underneath these official levels of local government, many towns and communities take it upon themselves to create low-level councils to deal with day-to-day issues of the locals. Typical issues include bus shelters and other local transport issues, play areas and equipment and community centres. Some individual councils decide to select a chairman or mayor to be the public face of the council.
All of these councils are made up of local councillors, who are elected in 4-year terms by the local people. Provided any personal interests are declared to the council to ensure there is no corruption in the system, any person can be a local councillor if they win. Many councillors tend to act for an overarching political party that is represented in the UK parliament but quite a few sit as independents. The number of councillors that make up a council depends on each region and the population they represent.
In terms of decisions made by a council, everything must be done officially. Meetings must be given a set date, agendas and supporting documents must be provided as well as minutes from each meeting and these are published on the local council websites. These meetings tend to be open to the public for anyone to attend. Accounts and spending decisions by the councils must also be made public and are held to account by higher authorities.
Local councils have different sources of funding. The central government provides basic funding whilst the local councils select the amount of council tax and business rates for their area to raise funds for public services.