Country Profile: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland



The Cabinet Office:

We support the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and ensure the effective running of government. We are also the corporate headquarters for government, in partnership with HM Treasury, and we take the lead in certain critical policy areas.

We have responsibility for:

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own devolved government or executive, led by a First Minister (or, in the case of Northern Ireland, a diarchal First Minister and deputy First Minister),


The Civil Service :

The Civil Service helps the Government of the day to develop and deliver its policies as effectively as possible.

The Civil Service incorporates three types of organisations – departments, agencies, and non-departmental government bodies (NDPBs). They work in a wide range of areas that touch on everyone’s day-to-day lives, such as education, health and policing.

Department for Communities and Local Government:

The Department works to move decision-making power from central government to local councils. This helps put communities in charge of planning, increases accountability and helps citizens to see how their money is being spent.

It is responsible for:

  • supporting local government by giving them the power to act for their community – without interference from central government
  • helping communities and neighbourhoods to solve their own problems so neighbourhoods are strong, attractive and thriving
  • working with local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones to help the public sector grow
  • making the planning system work more efficiently and effectively
  • supporting local fire and rescue authorities so that they’re able to respond to emergencies and reduce the number and impact of fires


The UK has a bicameral system : an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords.


The United Kingdom is a unitary state with some characteristics of a more federal state since the implementation of the decentralization program of 1997 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Parliament, in conjunction with the Scottish Executive, by principles have own legislative powers (competence of the British Parliament is the exception).
The Welsh Assembly has a lesser degree of legislative autonomy towards the British parliament. It is the same for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide-ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically ‘reserved’ to the UK parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government. In 2012, the UK and Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland. The Assembly is able to legislate on devolved matters through Acts of the Assembly, which require no prior consent from Westminster.

The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers similar to those already devolved to Scotland.

England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no such devolved executive or legislature and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK government and parliament on all issues. The highest level subdivisions of England are the nine regions. In England, the only directly elected regional authority is the Greater London Authority. It includes an assembly and a directly elected mayor and enjoying extensive executive powers. It is further divided into the City of London and 32 London boroughs. This is administered by the Greater London Authority, including the directly-elected London Assembly.

The other regions are made up of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties and unitary authorities. In the rest of England, the law allows the creation of regional assemblies after referendum. So far, no regional assembly was created.


For local government, England is divided into areas with a two-tier structure of counties and districts governed by two local authorities, and unitary authority areas where there is one local authority. The arrangement varies in different parts of the country and there are four main configurations: non-metropolitan two-tier ‘shire’ areas, six metropolitan counties, unitary authorities, and Greater London. These are further divided into districts.

Commonly, though not administratively, England’s geography is divided into ceremonial counties, which in most areas closely mirror the traditional counties. Each ceremonial county has a Lord Lieutenant, who is the monarch’s representative.

Northern Ireland

For local government, Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts, which are unitary authorities. divided into 26 districts for local government purposes. In Northern Ireland local councils do not carry out the same range of functions as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, for example they have no responsibility for education, for road building or for housing (though they do nominate members to the advisory Northern Ireland Housing Council). Their functions include waste and recycling services, leisure and community services, building control and local economic and cultural development. They are not planning authorities, but are consulted on some planning applications. The collection of rates is handled by the Land and Property Services agency. The councils of the 26 districts are variously styled ‘district councils’, ‘borough councils’, ‘city councils’ and ‘city and district councils’.


Below the national level, Scotland has 32 council areas (unitary authorities). Below this uniform level of subdivision, there are varying levels of area committees in the larger rural council areas, and many small community councils throughout the country, although these are not universal. Scottish community councils have few if any powers beyond being a forum for raising issues of concern.


Below the national level, Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities (Principal areas): 10 county boroughs, 9 Counties, and 3 Cities. Below these are community councils, which have powers similar to English parish councils.


EnglandThe counties are further divided into districts (which can be called cities, boroughs, royal boroughs, metropolitan boroughs or districts). The unitary authorities effectively combine the functions of counties and districts.

As the structure of local government in England is not uniform, there are currently four principal types of district-level subdivision. There are a total of 326 districts made up of 36 metropolitan boroughs, 32 London boroughs, 201 non-metropolitan districts, 55 unitary authorities, as well as the City of London and the Isles of Scilly which are also districts, but do not correspond to any of these categories. Some districts are styled as boroughs, cities, or royal boroughs; these are purely honorific titles, and do not alter the status of the district. All boroughs and cities, and a few districts, are led by a mayor who in most cases is a ceremonial figure elected by the district council, but – after local government reform – is occasionally a directly elected mayor who makes most of the policy decisions instead of the council.

Below the district level, civil parishes exist, though not uniformly. Parish or town councils exist for villages and small towns; they only rarely exist for communities within urban areas. They are prevented from existing within Greater London. A parish is governed by a parish council or parish meeting, which exercises a limited number of functions that would otherwise be delivered by the local authority. There are no civil parishes in Greater London and not all of the rest of England is parished. The number of parishes and total area parished is growing.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is divided into six traditional counties and 2 counties boroughs. Though widely used, these no longer serve any administrative purpose.


The base level of sub-division in Scotland is that of communities which may elect community councils (CCs). The main role of the CCs is to channel local opinion to larger local-government bodies. Otherwise they have very limited powers. There are around 1,200 communities in Scotland. Not all communities have councils; some have joint councils.

Scottish communities are the nearest equivalent to civil parishes in England.


The lowest level of administrative subdivision in Wales are the communities, into which each principal area is subdivided. They may have elected community councils which perform a number of roles, such as providing local facilities, and representing their communities to larger local government bodies. Community councils are the equivalent of English parish councils. A community council may call itself a “town council” if it so wishes. The councils of three communities with city status – Bangor, St Asaph, and St David’s and the Cathedral Close – are known as “city councils”. Communities which are too small to have a council may have a community meeting instead: an example of direct democracy.

Wales is also divided into preserved counties, which are used for ceremonial purposes. Although based on the counties used for local government between 1974 and 1996, they no longer have an administrative function.






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National Section: National Audit

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