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Unitary authorities

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Community and town councils are the grassroots level of local governance in Wales.

Wales’ 22 unitary authorities (county and county borough councils) deliver a wide range of services.

Some, for example education, must be made available under UK and Welsh law; others are provided at the discretion of individual authorities. A typical list of local authority services would include:

  • trading standards
  • libraries, leisure and tourism
  • environmental health, refuse and recycling
  • transport and highways
  • housing
  • social services.

While the history of local government in Wales stretches back at least to the 16th century, the existing 22 Welsh single-tier, unitary authorities date from 1996.  They are not divided into county and district councils, as local authorities are in much of England.  On a more local level, community and town councils provide services in their immediate areas.

All local authorities are democratically accountable through elections held every four years.  Local authorities have a cabinet-style executive with the dominant political group  or coalition making decisions under the scrutiny of the council as a whole. They have extensive staff structures headed by a chief executive, who works with other senior officers on day-to-day business and decision-making.

Local authority funding and policy

Welsh unitary authorities spend almost £7 billion a year on their services.  The sums making up this total vary considerably between larger authorities such as Cardiff and smaller ones like Merthyr Tydfil and Anglesey.  The Welsh Government provides around 80 per cent of unitary authority revenue funding, whilst council tax makes up most of the remainder.

The Welsh Government sets the broad policy agenda for local authorities in Wales, but avoids using its powers to control how they operate. Our work with local authorities is firmly on the basis of partnership. Local authorities also work in close partnership with other bodies, such as the NHS and the police.

All unitary authorities in Wales are members of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). The WLGA represents their collective views and interests and advises and supports individual authorities. The Welsh Government funds some WLGA projects, such as its work on equality and service improvement.

Working in Partnership provides information about the working relationship between the Welsh Government and local authorities.