Local elections 2022: What your council does – and what your council tax bill pays for

Local Election: Tory candidate calls Labour windfall tax 'communist'

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Boris Johnson is facing a moment of truth in less than a week, as Britons participate in their first countrywide polls since 2019 on May 5. The upcoming council elections have taken an undisputedly national angle despite their local significance as the Conservatives end up caught in a clutch of political scandals. Pundits and senior Tories are treating the elections as a test for the Prime Minister, but many Britons will want to vote for candidates who know how to use council tax funds to fulfil local priorities.

What role do councils serve?

The UK has 333 councils, split across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and between counties and districts, London boroughs, metropolitan boroughs, and unitary authorities. But not all seats are up for election next week on May 5.

Some 140-plus councils will head to the polls where thousands of candidates will be vying to take responsibility for local services, primarily day-to-day business.

Council roles primarily depend on the type of local government, which vary throughout the UK home nations.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) lists three general principles that each local organisation follows.

The association states that they primarily work to represent local communities, improve quality of life, and deliver services.

Exactly what they deliver depends on the level at which a council acts, with each type operating on a different rung.

County councils control services county-wide and oversee local policy direction.

Kent County Council, for example, oversees more than 1.5 million local constituents.

They provide the following services:

  • Town planning
  • Education
  • Transport
  • Public safety
  • Social care
  • Libraries
  • Rubbish management
  • Trading standards

Operating on a smaller scale are district, borough and city councils, many of which enact the policies decided by their county counterparts.

Their responsibilities include:

  • Waste collection
  • Recycling
  • Collecting council taxes
  • Housing
  • Planning applications

A few UK regions function under the guidance of unitary authorities, London and metropolitan boroughs, which provide a mix of services that include planning and instrumentation.

Their responsibilities will range from providing transportation to bin collection.

Parish, community and town councils operate on the lowest local rung by managing services like allotments, public clocks, play areas and equipment, and consultation on neighbourhood planning decisions.

They also handle fixed penalty notices for community infractions such as fly-tipping, general littering, graffiti and dog offences.

What do council tax bills pay for?

Britons pay variable rates of council tax depending on the band they fall into, which provides local authorities with their primary funds.

The exact distribution of the sums received varies by priorities, as some councils may emphasise some services over others.

Councils also have space to create their own programmes, meaning that funds in one area may contribute to services that others don’t have.

A report from the Local Government Association for 2019/2020 analysed council spending data and found how each pound of council spending contributed to services.

Each £1 given to the council is split, on average, in the following way:

  • Social care: 57p
  • Highways and public transport: 8p
  • Education support: 8p
  • Homelessness and planning: 8p
  • Waste management and street cleaning: 7p
  • Licensing, elections and trading standards: 7p
  • Museums, parks and libraries: 5p

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