1. England

England does not have its own devolved parliament and so is entirely subject to the administration of the UK Government in Westminster.

The subdivisions of England are shown in the diagram above.

Note however that the diagram shows the geographic structure rather than the administrative reporting structure.

In practice, neither metropolitan counties nor regions are truly part of the administrative hierarchy, and electoral wards/divisions are simply the 'building blocks' from which higher units are constituted.

Parishes, on the other hand, can have their own council but have been isolated from the geographic structure, as, unlike electoral wards/divisions, they are not found across the whole of England.

England's geographical structure

England (E92)

Regions (E12)

  • Greater London (E12000009)
    – London Boroughs (E09)
    – Electoral Wards (E05)

  • Counties (E10)
    – Non-Metropolitan Districts (E07)
    – Electoral Wards (E05)

  • Unitary Authorities (E06)
    – Electoral Wards (E05)

  • Metropolitan Counties (E11)
    – Metropolitan Districts (E08)
    – Electoral Wards (E05)

  • Parishes (E04)

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2. Regions

There are nine English regions which were established in 1994 and they are the highest tier of sub-national division in England.

The Former Government Offices for the Regions (GOR)

There were nine Government Offices for the Regions (GOR) established across England in 1994 which became abolished in 2011.

Due to the requirement to maintain a region-level geography for statistical purposes, the Government Statistical Service Regional and Geography Committee agreed that from 1 April 2011, the former GORs should be simply referred to as 'regions'.

The Former Standard Statistical Regions (SSR)

SSRs were the primary classification for English regional statistics prior to the adoption of GORs in 1994. There were eight SSRs, with Greater London included within a South East region, rather than as a region on its own as is currently the case. There were also some other region boundary differences with the current regions.

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3. Greater London and the London Boroughs

Greater London was established in 1965 as an administrative unit covering the London metropolis. It was not defined as a county but had a two-tier structure, with the lower tier being the London boroughs.

Following the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1986 the London boroughs became single-tier authorities, but Greater London was still widely recognised, especially for statistical and mapping purposes. In 2000, however, a two-tier structure was re-established when the new Greater London Authority adopted responsibility for a range of citywide policy areas.

There are 32 London boroughs with a status similar to metropolitan districts, and also the City of London, which is a City Corporation and has a number of additional roles. London boroughs are subdivided into electoral wards.

You can find a full listing of London borough names and codes on the Open Geography portal. The names and codes are in the UK local authority districts downloadable file. Within this file the London boroughs have codes beginning with E09. For more information on the coding, please refer to the Code History Database (CHD).

The London borough nine-character GSS code begins with E09* and a full listing can be found in the LAD names and codes, lookup files and Code History Database. Boundaries for the London boroughs can be found in the local authority district (LAD) boundary files, for use in GIS. There is also a pdf map showing the London boroughs. These files are all available to download free of charge from the Open Geography portal.

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4. Counties, non-metropolitan districts and unitary authorities

In 1974 a two-tier administrative structure of (shire) counties and non-metropolitan districts was set up across England and Wales, except for the Isles of Scilly, Greater London and the 6 metropolitan counties.

Council functions were divided according to the level at which they could be practised most efficiently.

In consequence, counties took on functions including education, transport, strategic planning, fire services, consumer protection, refuse disposal, smallholdings, social services and libraries, whereas the local authority districts (LAD) had responsibility for local planning, housing, local highways, building, environmental health, refuse collection and cemeteries.

Responsibility for recreation and cultural matters was divided between the two tiers.

Following the Local Government Reorganisation in the 1990s, major changes were implemented to create administrations most appropriate to the needs of the area concerned.

The key feature of this change was the introduction of unitary authorities: single-tier administrations with responsibility for all areas of local government.

Between 1995 and 1998 these were established in a number of areas across the country, especially in medium-sized urban areas, whilst other areas retained a two-tier structure.

Further local government reorganisation occurred in 2009 and there are currently (as at 1 April 2021) 59 unitary authorities in England, and 24 shire counties split into 181 (non-metropolitan) districts.

Note that due to the changes in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are considered a unitary authority for coding purposes.

Counties, LADs and unitary authorities are subdivided into electoral wards/divisions.

On 1 January 2011, the GSS Coding and Naming Policy was implemented. This policy led to the creation of a new coding system (the nine character codes) for all geographies held by ONS. For further information, please refer to the Code History Database (CHD).

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5. Metropolitan counties and districts

In 1974 a new two-tier system of counties and districts was established across England and Wales.

Six of the upper-tier units, all in England and representing heavily built-up areas (other than Greater London), were designated 'metropolitan counties' and were subdivided into 'metropolitan districts'.

As with non-metropolitan areas the respective authorities covered all areas of local government, but the distribution of responsibilities was different to that of the county/local authority district structure.

In 1986 the metropolitan county councils were abolished, although the county areas are still recognised, especially for statistical purposes.

The 36 metropolitan district councils were left as single-tier authorities, a status retained to date, and accordingly have more powers than their non-metropolitan local authority district (LAD) equivalents.

Metropolitan districts are subdivided into electoral wards.

On 1 January 2011, the GSS Coding and Naming Policy was implemented. This policy led to the creation of a new, nine character, coding system for all geographies held by ONS. For further information, please refer to the Code History Database (CHD).

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6. Electoral wards/electoral divisions

Introduction

Electoral wards/divisions are the key building blocks of UK administrative geography. They are the spatial units used to elect local government councillors in metropolitan and non-metropolitan districts, unitary authorities and the London boroughs in England.

Electoral wards are also found in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In the Isle of Wight and several of the unitary authorities created as part of the Local Government Reorganisation in 2009, the equivalent areas are legally termed 'electoral divisions', although they are frequently referred to as wards.

The only part of the UK without electoral wards/divisions is the Isles of Scilly, which has its own council but no electoral zoning. For statistical purposes, however, ONS treats the islands' five parishes as electoral wards.

Electoral wards/divisions (and the Scilly parishes) cover the whole of the UK; in addition, all higher administrative units are built up of whole electoral wards/divisions.

They are also used to constitute a range of other geographies such as the health geographies in Wales and Scotland and Westminster parliamentary constituencies.

English local authority districts (LAD) (both metropolitan and non-metropolitan), London boroughs and unitary authorities average around 23 electoral wards/divisions each, Northern Irish local government districts around 42, Scottish council areas around 11, and Welsh unitary authorities around 40.

Ward population counts can vary substantially, even within a single LAD, but the UK average is about 5,500. The figure for England is 7,854.

More populous electoral wards/divisions tend to occur in large urban areas.

Electoral ward/division boundary changes are usually enacted on the first Thursday in May each year, to coincide with the local government elections in the UK.

As of 6 May 2021, the UK has 8,694 electoral wards/divisions, with 7,026 in England.

County Electoral Divisions

Apart from the special cases of the Isles of Scilly and the Greater London Authority (GLA), the English county councils are the only type of LAD in the UK which does not use standard electoral wards/divisions for electing councillors.

Instead they use their own larger units, which are confusingly also termed electoral divisions.

These county electoral divisions must be confined within LAD boundaries, but need not be based on whole electoral wards.

Like electoral wards/divisions, county electoral divisions are defined by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE).

As of 6 May 2021, England has 1,575 county electoral divisions.

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7. Parishes and communities

The smallest type of administrative area in England is the parish (aka 'civil parish'); the equivalent unit in Wales is the community. Scotland also has communities but their councils are generally a channel of opinion to other authorities rather than an administration in their own right. Northern Ireland does not have any similar units.

English parishes

English parishes are a very old form of spatial unit which originally represented areas of both civil and ecclesiastical administration. They used to be significant local government areas but now have very limited functions. Modern parish councils (which may choose to call themselves a town council) can provide facilities such as village halls, war memorials, cemeteries, leisure facilities and playgrounds. They have duties such as maintenance of public footpaths and may also spend money on cultural projects, community transport initiatives and crime-prevention equipment. In addition they must be notified of all planning applications and consulted on the making of certain by-laws. However, not all parishes have a council – if there are fewer than 200 parishioners, or if the parishioners do not want one, decisions can instead be taken at parish meetings. The geography is further complicated by the fact that several smaller parishes may come together to elect a joint council. Parishes are confined within local authority district boundaries but are not contiguous with electoral wards. In some smaller urban areas, successor parishes have been created, but this is not universal. Consequently some areas of the country have parishes and others don't, making them an unsatisfactory unit for producing National Statistics.

Many parishes are a similar size in area to wards, but some can contain several wards, and ward boundaries need not be followed. As at 1 April 2021, there were 10,474 parishes in England.

English non-civil parish areas

Non-civil parish areas (NCP) refer to the area in a local authority not comprised of parishes, that is unparished areas.

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