1. Wales

Wales is subject to the administration of both the UK Government in Westminster and also the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff.

The UK Government retains responsibility for non-devolved topics, but the National Assembly has powers to make legislation in devolved topics such as health, education, agriculture, local government, environment, and culture.

Wales is subdivided into 22 unitary authorities, which in turn are divided into electoral wards and communities.

Back to table of contents

2. Unitary Authorities

Following the 1994 Local Government (Wales) Act, the eight counties and 37 districts of Wales were replaced in April 1996 by 22 unitary authorities (UA) with responsibilities for all aspects of local government.

Eight of the UAs (Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Torfaen, Wrexham and Rhondda Cynon Taf) have county borough status (reflecting their existence as large population centres), whilst the other 14 have county status (reflecting at least some aspect of rurality). These definitions do not, however, affect authority structures.

UAs are built from electoral wards. They are also divided into communities.

Back to table of contents

3. 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; unitary authorities in Wales; council areas in Scotland; and district council areas in Northern Ireland.

Electoral wards are found in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and most of England.

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.

Wales changed to using the term 'electoral wards' instead of 'electoral divisions' in August 2013.

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 Eurostat Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) geographies, health geographies 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 district council areas around 22, Scottish council areas around 11 and Welsh unitary authorities about 40.

Population counts can vary substantially, even within a single LAD, but the national average is about 5,500.

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.

As of 31 December 2015, the UK has 9,196 electoral wards/divisions.

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).

We don't maintain lists of names and codes for county electoral divisions.

Statistical Wards, CAS Wards and ST Wards

Further information on statistical wards, Census Area Statistics (CAS) wards and Standard Table (ST) wards, is available here.

Back to table of contents

4. 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 to wards, but some can contain several wards, and ward boundaries need not be followed. As at 31 December 2015 there were 10,449 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, i.e. unparished areas.

Welsh Communities

The Welsh equivalent of parishes are communities, which fit into and change with unitary authorities. Their councils have similar powers to English parish councils and may also choose to call themselves town councils. Unlike parishes in England, communities cover the whole of Wales, and this gives them greater potential as a statistical unit. There are 870 communities in Wales, over 730 of which currently have a council. Prior to 1974 Wales also had parishes, but these were technically abolished when communities were introduced, despite the new communities initially being aligned to the old parish boundaries.

Scottish Communities

All of Scotland has had communities delineated, which fit into and change with council areas. However, community councils (CC) are not statutory and only exist if volunteers are willing to run them. In consequence there are approximately 1,200 such councils, which can represent either single delineated communities or groups of them. There are also nearly 200 communities, mostly in the larger cities, which have no council.

The principal role of CCs is to act as a channel for the views of local communities. They have a legal right to be notified of and respond to planning applications and can be involved in a range of activities, mostly related to local infrastructure and community events (e.g. playgrounds, bus shelters, village halls, footpaths, flower beds, Christmas celebrations). Not all CCs participate, however, and those that do have to rely on voluntary work and fund-raising; many receive council area funding for running costs only. CCs can however obtain grants for specific schemes.

In fact, although some are supportive, many council areas tend to disregard their CCs and do not consider them to be a tier of government, even though they legally can have that role. It is only in Na h-Eileanan Siar (formerly known as "Eilean Siar" / 'Western Isles'), Orkney and especially in Shetland that CCs are viewed as an important tier in the administrative structure and have a correspondingly larger budget. Scotland's network of parishes was abolished for administrative purposes in 1973, when CCs were initiated. Unlike in Wales, these new CCs were not necessarily based on old parish areas. As indicated, CCs fit inside council area boundaries, whereas the old parish geography no longer corresponds with any modern administrative pattern.

We do not hold a list of Scottish communities.

Back to table of contents