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|Local government in England
May 2021: In London and several metropolitan areas, England’s cities are led by elected Mayors, while in all but 15 of the 309 local councils in England are run by a Council Leader elected by their fellow councillors. Since 2002 a number have been led by mayors elected directly by local voters. Most of the local authority elected mayors in England have responsibility for all local services, with two district council mayors responsible for only environment, planning and housing. In London and the metro area Combined Authorities, the Mayor is responsible for transport, economic development, skills and spatial planning, as well as other fields as devolved. All England’s elected mayors are elected on four-year terms by the instant run-off Supplementary Vote. There are no elected mayors in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
There are 309 municipal units in England, consisting of all-purpose single-tier London Boroughs (32, as well as the City of London Corporation), metropolitan boroughs (36) and unitary authorities (59), and 181 non-metropolitan districts existing below 24 upper-tier county councils. In some cases, non-metropolitan districts can be known as borough or city councils, while some London Borough, metropolitan borough and unitary councils can also be known as ‘city’ councils. The single-tier councils all have the same responsibilities, but their designation reflects particular waves of reorganisation: London Boroughs (1965), metropolitan boroughs (1986) and unitary authorities (1995-1998, 2009 and 2019-21). Non-metropolitan districts perform mainly environmental, planning and housing functions in contrast to the all-purpose authorities that also provide education and social services.
In the majority of these 309 councils, all but 15 are headed by a Council Leader elected from among the council (previously annually, since 2010 for four-year terms). All councils are elected on four-year cycles but the type of elections (all out, half of seats or third of seats) is determined by each council, leading to a variety of election types across England (except in London and most Metropolitan Boroughs, which work on a single fixed all-out cycle).
The directly elected Mayor of London (since 2000) is included among England’s elected mayors, but as the Greater London Authority (GLA) is a strategic regional body that does not provide local authority services, he is considered separately for most other purposes. Since 2011, Combined Authorities (CAs) consisting of council leaders of constituent local authorities have been introduced to mostly metropolitan areas of England. Among their core responsibilities are transport, economic development, skills, housing investment and spatial planning, with other fields devolved as agreed with central government (e.g. social care, criminal justice). Under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, ‘Metro Mayors’ were elected for the first time in 2017 to lead several of these Combined Authorities, in areas covering Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester, as well as Cambridge/Peterborough and Middlesbrough. In May 2018, a metro mayor election was held for the Sheffield City Region CA, followed by North of Tyne (Newcastle and surrounds) a year later and most recently West Yorkshire (Leeds) in 2021.
Under the Local Government Act 2000, any local council in England could hold a referendum on the introduction of a directly elected mayor, either by citizen petition or council decision. Since the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, councils have been allowed to introduce the system without a referendum, so far only two (Leicester and Liverpool) have done so. Stoke on Trent, which introduced the system in 2002, was the first to abolish it by referendum in 2008, as it was attributed to the poor governance in the city (alongside other issues). In 2012 Hartlepool followed suit as a result of a referendum initiated by citizen petition, with the council being run under the previous committee system from May 2013. A similar referendum in neighbouring Middlesbrough in 2013 saw the mayoral system retained however. During the 2016 local elections, voters in North Tyneside also voted to retain the mayoralty, while in Torbay a similar poll saw a vote to end the mayoral system from 2019. Newham and Tower Hamlets electors both voted to retain the system in May 2021. The elected mayor cannot also be a member of the council (as an ordinary councillor) he or she leads.
The UK’s previous Conservative-led coalition government legislated for referendums to be held in May 2012 in England’s 10 largest cities (Birmingham, Manchester etc.) on the introduction of elected mayor posts, with only Bristol assenting to the proposal. It also introduced directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners to replace England’s police authorities (previously appointed boards) from November 2012. In London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire this is a mayoral function, however..
There are no directly elected mayors in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland have chosen not to introduce the system, while in Wales only one local referendum on introducing an elected mayor has been held to date.
Elected regional (metro) mayors in England
Elected city mayors in England
Liberal Democrats centrist;