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Unitary authorities of England

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Unitary authority
English unitary authorities 2009.svg
CategoryLocal authority districts
Found inRegions
Number59 (as of 2009)
Possible statusNon-metropolitan county (49)
District of Berkshire (6)
Additional statusNon-metropolitan district

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 and a further tranche were created in 2009. 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.

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  • ✪ Federalism: Crash Course Government and Politics #4


Hi, I'm Craig and this is Crash Course Government and Politics. Today we're going to talk about a fundamental concept to American government, federalism. Sorry. I'm not sorry. You're not even endangered anymore. So federalism is a little confusing because it includes the word, "federal," as in federal government, which is what we use to describe the government of the United States as a whole. Which is kind of the opposite of what we mean when we say federalism. Confused? Google it. This video will probably come up. And then just watch this video. Or, just continue watching this video. [Intro] So what is federalism? Most simply, it's the idea that in the US, governmental power is divided between the government of the United States and the government of the individual states. The government of the US, the national government, is sometimes called the federal government, while the state governments are just called the state governments. This is because technically the US can be considered a federation of states. But this means different things to different people. For instance, federation of states means ham sandwich to me. I'll have one federation of states, please, with a side of tater tots. Thank you. I'm kind of dumb. In the federal system, the national government takes care of some things, like for example, wars with other countries and delivering the mail, while the state government takes care of other things like driver's license, hunting licenses, barber's licences, dentist's licenses, license to kill - nah, that's James Bond. And that's in England. And I hope states don't do that. Pretty simple right? Maybe not. For one thing, there are some aspects of government that are handled by both the state and national government. Taxes, American's favorite government activity, are an example. There are federal taxes and state taxes. But it gets even more complicated because there are different types of federalism depending on what period in American history you're talking about. UGH! Stan! Why is history so confusing!? UGH! Stan, are you going to tell me? Can you talk Stan? Basically though, there are two main types of federalism -dual federalism, which has nothing to do Aaron Burr, usually refers to the period of American history that stretches from the founding of our great nation until the New Deal, and cooperative federalism, which has been the rule since the 1930s. Let's start with an easy one and start with dual federalism in the Thought Bubble. From 1788 until 1937, the US basically lived under a regime of dual federalism, which meant that government power was strictly divided between the state and national governments. Notice that I didn't say separated, because I don't want you to confuse federalism with the separation of powers. DON'T DO IT! With dual federalism, there are some things that only the federal government does and some things that only the state governments do. This is sometimes called jurisdiction. The national government had jurisdiction over internal improvements like interstate roads and canals, subsidies to the states, and tariffs, which are taxes on imports and thus falls under the general heading of foreign policy. The national government also owns public lands and regulates patents which need to be national for them to offer protection for inventors in all the states. And because you want a silver dollar in Delaware to be worth the same as a silver dollar in Georgia, the national government also controls currency. The state government had control over property laws, inheritance laws, commercial laws, banking laws, corporate laws, insurance, family law, which means marriage and divorce, morality -- stuff like public nudeness and drinking - which keeps me in check -- public health, education, criminal laws including determining what is a crime and how crimes are prosecuted, land use, which includes water and mineral rights, elections, local government, and licensing of professions and occupations, basically what is required to drive a car, or open a bar or become a barber or become James Bond. So, under dual federalism, the state government has jurisdiction over a lot more than the national government. These powers over health, safety and morality are sometimes called police power and usually belong to the states. Because of the strict division between the two types of government, dual federalism is sometimes called layer cake federalism. Delicious. And it's consistent with the tradition of limited government that many Americans hold dear. Thanks Thought Bubble. Now, some of you might be wondering, Craig, where does the national government get the power to do anything that has do to with states? Yeah, well off the top of my head, the US Constitution in Article I, Section 8 Clause 3 gives Congress the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." This is what is known as the Commerce Clause, and the way that it's been interpreted is the basis of dual federalism and cooperative federalism. For most of the 19th century, the Supreme Court has decided that almost any attempt by any government, federal or state, to regulate state economic activity would violate the Commerce Clause. This basically meant that there was very little regulation of business at all. FREEDOOOOOOMM! This is how things stood, with the US following a system of dual federalism, with very little government regulation and the national government not doing much other than going to war or buying and conquering enormous amounts of territories and delivering the mail. Then the Great Depression happened, and Franklin Roosevelt and Congress enacted the New Deal, which changed the role of the federal government in a big way. The New Deal brought us cooperative federalism, where the national government encourages states and localities to pursue nationally-defined goals. The main way that the federal government does this is through dollar-dollar bills, y'all. Money is what I'm saying. Stan, can I make it rain? Yeah? Alright, I'm doing it. I happen to have cash in my hand now. Oh yeah, take my federal money, states. Regulating ya. Regulator. This money that the federal government gives to the states is called a grant-in-aid. Grants-in-aid can work like a carrot encouraging a state to adopt a certain policy or work like a stick when the federal government withholds funds if a state doesn't do what the national government wants. Grants-in-aid are usually called categorical, because they're given to states for a particular purpose like transportation or education or alleviating poverty. There are 2 types of categorical grants-in-aid: formula grants and project grants. Under a formula grant, a state gets aid in a certain amount of money based on a mathematical formula; the best example of this is the old way welfare was given in the US under the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children. AFDC. States got a certain amount of money for every person who was classified as "poor." The more poor people a state had, the more money it got. Project grants require states to submit proposals in order to receive aid. The states compete for a limited pool of resources. Nowadays, project grants are more common than formula grants, but neither is as popular as block grants, which the government gives out Lego Blocks and then you build stuff with Legos. It's a good time. No no, the national government gives a state a huge chunk of money for something big, like infrastructure, which is made with concrete and steel, and not Legos, and the state is allowed to decide how to spend the money. The basic type of cooperative federalism is the carrot stick type which is sometimes called marble cake federalism because it mixes up the state and federal governments in ways that makes it impossible to separate the two. Federalism, it's such a culinary delight. The key to it is, you guessed it - dollar dollar bills y'all. Money. But there are another aspect of cooperative federalism that's really not so cooperative, and that's regulated federalism. Under regulated federalism, the national governments sets up regulations and rules that the states must follow. Some examples of these rules, also called mandates, are EPA regulations, civil rights standards, and the rules set up by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sometimes the government gives the states money to implement the rules, but sometimes it doesn't and they must comply anyways. That's called an unfunded mandate. Or as I like to call it, an un-fun mandate. Because no money, no fun. A good example of example of this is OSHA regulations that employers have to follow. States don't like these, and Congress tried to do something about them with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act or UMRA, but it hasn't really worked. In the early 21st century, Americans are basically living under a system of cooperative federalism with some areas of activity that are heavily regulated. This is a stretch from the original idea that federalism will keep the national government small and have most government functions belong to the states. If you follow American politics, and I know you do, this small government ideal should sound familiar because it's the bedrock principle of many conservatives and libertarians in the US. As conservatives made many political inroads during the 1970s, a new concept of federalism, which was kind of an old concept of federalism, became popular. It was called, SURPRISE, New Federalism, and it was popularized by Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Just to be clear, it's called New Federalism not Surprise New Federalism. New federalism basically means giving more power to the states, and this has been done in three ways. First, block grants allow states discretion to decide what to do with federal money, and what's a better way to express your power than spending money? Or not spending money as the case may be. Another form of New Federalism is devolution, which is the process of giving state and local governments the power to enforce regulations, devolving power from the national to the state level. Finally, some courts have picked up the cause of New Federalism through cases based on the 10th Amendment, which states "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The idea that some powers, like those police powers I talked about before, are reserved by the states, have been used to put something of a brake on the Commerce Clause. So as you can see, where we are with federalism today is kind of complicated. Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton seem to favor New Federalism and block grants. But George W. Bush seemed to push back towards regulated federalism with laws like No Child Left Behind and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. It's pretty safe to say that we're going to continue to live under a regime of cooperative federalism, with a healthy dose of regulation thrown in. But many Americans feel that the national government is too big and expensive and not what the framers wanted. If history is any guide, a system of dual federalism with most of the government in the hands of the states is probably not going to happen. For some reason, it's really difficult to convince institutions to give up powers once they've got them. I'm never giving up this power. Thanks for watching, I'll see you next week. Crash Course Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course is made with the help of these nice people. Thanks for watching. You didn't help make this video at all, did you? No. But you did get people to keep watching until the end because you're an adorable dog.




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.[1] 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.[2]

1990s reform

A review in the 1990s was initiated to select non-metropolitan areas where new unitary authorities could be created.[3] 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.[2] 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.[2]

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 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.[4] 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 have been formed.[5][6][7]

Two competing plans were drawn up for Buckinghamshire. One plan would see the abolition of the four district councils resulting in the existing county council becoming a unitary authority. The other plan would see the formation of two unitary authorities, one authority would be formed through the merger of the three existing districts of Chiltern, South Bucks Wycombe with the other formed by the existing Aylesbury Vale district becoming a unitary authority.[8][9] In March 2018, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid indicated that he was minded to consider a single unitary authority option in preference to the two unitary authority model.[10]

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.[11] One authority would consist of the existing districts of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire and the other authority would consist of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough districts.[12]

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]


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:[13]

Service Non-metropolitan county Non-metropolitan district Unitary authority
Education ☑Y ☑Y
Housing ☑Y ☑Y
Planning applications ☑Y ☑Y
Strategic planning ☑Y ☑Y
Transport planning ☑Y ☑Y
Passenger transport ☑Y ☑Y
Highways ☑Y ☑Y
Fire ☑Y ☑Y
Social services ☑Y ☑Y
Libraries ☑Y ☑Y
Leisure and recreation ☑Y ☑Y
Waste collection ☑Y ☑Y
Waste disposal ☑Y ☑Y
Environmental health ☑Y ☑Y
Revenue collection ☑Y ☑Y

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.[14]

Current list

Unitary authority areas can additionally have the status of borough or city, although this has no effect on their powers or functions.

District Local authority Created Formed by
Bath and North East Somerset Bath and North East Somerset Council 1996 District gained county functions
Bedford Bedford Borough Council 2009 District gained county functions
Blackburn with Darwen Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
Blackpool Blackpool Council 1998 District gained county functions
Bournemouth Bournemouth Borough Council 1997 District gained county functions
Bracknell Forest Bracknell Forest Borough Council 1998 District gained Berkshire county functions
Brighton and Hove Brighton and Hove City Council 1997 District gained county functions
Bristolcerem Bristol City Council 1996 District gained county functions
Central Bedfordshire Central Bedfordshire Council 2009 District gained county functions
Cheshire East Cheshire East Council 2009 District gained county functions
Cheshire West and Chester Cheshire West and Chester Council 2009 District gained county functions
Cornwallcerem Cornwall Council 2009 County gained district functions
County Durhamcerem Durham County Council 2009 County gained district functions
Darlington Darlington Borough Council 1997 District gained county functions
Derby Derby City Council 1997 District gained county functions
East Riding of Yorkshirecerem East Riding of Yorkshire Council 1996 District gained county functions
Halton Halton Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
Hartlepool Hartlepool Borough Council 1996 District gained county functions
Herefordshirecerem Herefordshire Council 1998 District gained county functions
Isle of Wightcerem[15] Isle of Wight Council 1995 County gained district functions
Kingston upon Hull Hull City Council 1996 District gained county functions
Leicester Leicester City Council 1997 District gained county functions
Luton Luton Borough Council 1997 District gained county functions
Medway Medway Council 1998 District gained county functions
Middlesbrough Middlesbrough Borough Council 1996 District gained county functions
Milton Keynes Milton Keynes Council 1997 District gained county functions
North East Lincolnshire North East Lincolnshire Council 1996 District gained county functions
North Lincolnshire North Lincolnshire Council 1996 District gained county functions
North Somerset North Somerset Council 1996 District gained county functions
Northumberlandcerem Northumberland County Council 2009 County gained district functions
Nottingham Nottingham City Council 1998 District gained county functions
Peterborough Peterborough City Council 1998 District gained county functions
Plymouth Plymouth City Council 1998 District gained county functions
Poole Poole Borough Council 1997 District gained county functions
Portsmouth Portsmouth City Council 1997 District gained county functions
Reading Reading Borough Council 1998 District gained Berkshire county functions
Redcar and Cleveland Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council 1996 District gained county functions
Rutlandcerem Rutland County Council 1997 District gained county functions
Shropshirecerem Shropshire Council 2009 County gained district functions
Slough Slough Borough Council 1998 District gained Berkshire county functions
Southampton Southampton City Council 1997 District gained county functions
Southend-on-Sea Southend-on-Sea Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
South Gloucestershire South Gloucestershire Council 1996 District gained county functions
Stockton-on-Tees Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council 1996 District gained county functions
Stoke-on-Trent Stoke-on-Trent City Council 1998 District gained county functions
Swindon Swindon Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
Telford and Wrekin Telford and Wrekin Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
Thurrock Thurrock Council 1998 District gained county functions
Torbay Torbay Council 1998 District gained county functions
Warrington Warrington Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
West Berkshire West Berkshire Council 1998 District gained Berkshire county functions
Wiltshirecerem Wiltshire Council 2009 County gained district functions
Windsor and Maidenhead Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council 1998 District gained Berkshire county functions
Wokingham Wokingham Borough Council 1998 District gained county functions
York City of York Council 1996 District gained county functions

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.[16] 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.

See also



  1. ^ Redcliffe-Maud Report I. vi 73, cited in Oxford English Dictionary Online, draft addendum February 2003, s.v. unitary. An earlier citation, in 1936, uses the term for the London County Council in the sense of an elected council for the whole of London.
  2. ^ a b c Atkinson, H. & Wilks-Heeg, S. (2000). Local Government from Thatcher to Blair. Polity.
  3. ^ Jones, Kavanagh, Moran & Norton (2004). Politics UK (5th ed.). Pearson.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Future Dorset - Two new authorities for Dorset". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  5. ^ "The Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole (Structural Changes) Order 2018". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ "Shadow Dorset Council". Shadow Dorset Council. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Decision on future of councils in Bucks could be decided imminently". Bucks Free Press. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  9. ^ "Modernising proposal" (PDF).
  10. ^ "Unitary plan for Buckinghamshire backed". 12 March 2018. Retrieved 20 September 2018 – via
  11. ^ "Troubled council 'should be scrapped'". 15 March 2018. Retrieved 20 September 2018 – via
  12. ^ "Northamptonshire County Council 'should be split up', finds damning report". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  13. ^ Frequently Asked Questions on the structural reviews of Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk, Boundary Commission for England
  14. ^ "Help using the election maps apps". Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  15. ^ "The Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order 1994". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Isles of Scilly Order 1930" (PDF). Retrieved 7 November 2017.
This page was last edited on 18 October 2018, at 17:39
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