Local council services

All the different parts that go to make a good neighbourhood are the responsibility of different public organisations. If you've ever tried to work out who does what you'll know how confusing it can get. Here's the lowdown, unravelled so you can get to what you want quickly.

street sweepers

Local councils are responsible for cleaning the streets.

Parish councils

There are about 10,000 parish councils in England and Wales. Also called town councils or community councils, these are the most local and smallest councils, but they do have some limited powers. There are parish councillors, elected for a period of four years. Here is a list of some of the things they are responsible for, although sometimes they need the agreement of another council, like the larger county council:

  • Provision of allotments;
  • Provision of baths and washhouses;
  • Provision of public clocks;
  • Provision and maintenance of public halls;
  • Footway lighting;
  • Litter bins;
  • Providing and maintaining car parks, public toilets;
  • Providing and maintaining bus shelters, parks and public ponds.

Urban areas are unlikely to have parish or town councils: they exist predominantly in rural or semi-rural areas. You can find out if you live in an area with a parish or town council by checking with the National Association of Local Councils;

London Borough/Metropolitan District Council

London and the larger cities of England and Wales have London Borough or Metropolitan District Councils. There are 32 London Borough Councils, plus the City of London and 36 Metropolitan District Councils (MDCs). MDCs cover places like Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton and Doncaster.

These councils provide all local services – education, housing, leisure services, refuse collection, street cleaning and others. They are sometimes called all-purpose” or single tier” authorities.

The website address of London Boroughs is the name of the borough, followed by gov.uk, for example, http://www.ealing.gov.uk/, and a similar pattern exists for MDCs, for example, http://www.manchester.gov.uk/ takes you through the Manchester City Council.

English/Welsh Unitary Authorities

Usually medium sized towns are English and Welsh Unitary Authorities. Despite the off-putting name, these councils are the councils of places such as Reading, Nottingham or Cardiff. The unitaries” have the same powers as the London Boroughs or Metropolitan Districts: they provide all local services, and are the single point of contact for those services. Unitary authorities can also be district councils.

Their website addresses will usually be the name of the town, followed by gov.uk – for example, http://www.winchester.gov.uk/ or http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/ .

County Councils and District Councils

In other areas, mostly rural or semi-rural, the system of local government is split between the County Council and District Councils.

County Councils cover a large area, for example, Hampshire or Devon. The 34 County Councils usually provide most of the services, around 80% for that area. It is responsible for strategic plans across the whole area, looking at new developments in shopping, housing, leisure developments and public transport. The County Council can feel remote and out of touch from the concerns and lives of people in a particular local area, and it may be hard to know how to contact them.

The website address of County Councils varies: some, like Surrey, are http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/, incorporating the county council in the address; others simply include the name of the county, for example, http://www.kent.gov.uk/.

District Councils cover a smaller area, for example, smaller towns such as Bradford or St Albans. These councils also provide services, often more locally based services, for example, housing, leisure and recreation, and waste collection. County councils and District Councils can both provide some services, for example, they are both involved in planning decisions in different ways. When this happens, it is particularly difficult for the public to know who to go to for which service.

The website address for District Councils is usually the name of the town, followed by gov.uk, for example, http://www.wycombe.gov.uk/.

What don’t local councils do?

Local councils provide most of the day-to-day services in the community, but they don’t do it all. They work with other large organisations that also provide cornerstone services. The most important services not run by local councils are:


Local health services are run by Primary Care Trusts. There is a network of health services used by families, from health visitors, GPs, midwives, hospitals through to speech therapists and other specialist health services. The National Family and Parenting Institute has produced a booklet on how the health services work. You can either download The Family Health Maze from http://www.nfpi.org/ or tel: 09069 592 692 for a free copy.

Fire and police services

The emergency services operate independently, although both these services do work with the council to tell people about safety issues and prevention. If it is not an emergency, don’t ring 999; the number of the local fire and police stations are in the phone book.

Other services in the community

There are many organisations working locally to provide help, support and services to families.

  • Government-funded services that are run locally, for example, Sure Start or Connexions. Although these were set up by Government, local parents and local service providers, like the health services, they have a big say in what happens locally.
  • Big voluntary organisations and charities may run local projects. NSPCC http://vbulletin.thesite.org.uk/showthread.php?t=80343 and Barnardos, http://www.barnardos.org.uk/ for example, run projects for parents and children, and are often involved in working with other organisations, perhaps in providing activities for young people.
  • Local charities and voluntary organisations that might provide a particular service, for example, a toy library.
  • Some of these organisations work together with the local council to provide multi-agency” services – the idea being to combine forces at local level to make services better and make sure no-one is duplicating services. An example of multi-agency partnerships might be the Children Fund. This multi-agency work is becoming more common; there is usually a lead organisation which would be the contact point for parents and families.

Photo of street sweepers by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015