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A local government is a form of public administration which, in a majority of contexts, exists as the lowest tier of administration within a given state. The term is used to contrast with offices at state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or (where appropriate) federal government and also to supranational government which deals with governing institutions between states. Local governments generally act within powers delegated to them by legislation or directives of the higher level of government. In federal states, local government generally comprises the third (or sometimes fourth) tier of government, whereas in unitary states, local government usually occupies the second or third tier of government, often with greater powers than higher-level administrative divisions.

The question of municipal autonomy is a key question of public administration and governance. The institutions of local government vary greatly between countries, and even where similar arrangements exist, the terminology often varies. Common designated names for local government entities include state, province, region, canton, department, county, prefecture, district, city, township, town, borough, parish, municipality, shire, village, ward, local service district and local government area.

The most complex system is in England, the result of numerous reforms and reorganisation over the centuries. The top level of sub-national administration within England until the end of March 2012 consisted of the nine regions. The regions

The most complex system is in England, the result of numerous reforms and reorganisation over the centuries. The top level of sub-national administration within England until the end of March 2012 consisted of the nine regions. The regions were used by central government for various statistical purposes, and Government Offices and assorted other institutions including Regional Development Agencies. Regional Government Offices, Regional Development Agencies and Regional Ministers were all abolished by the Cameron ministry in 2010. Only the London region which is a sub-region compared to the other regions of England has a directly elected government. Only one regional referendum has been held to date to seek consent for the introduction of direct elections elsewhere — in the northeast of England — and this was overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate.

The layers of elected local government vary. In different areas the highest tier of elected local government may be: