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Unitary authority
English unitary authorities 2020.svg
CategoryLocal authority districts
LocationEngland
Found inRegions
Number56 (as of 2020)
Possible statusCoterminous Non-metropolitan county and Non-metropolitan district (50)
District of Berkshire (6)
Populations40,000–550,000

Unitary authorities of England are local authorities that are responsible for the provision of all local government services within a district. They are constituted under the Local Government Act 1992, which amended the Local Government Act 1972 to allow the existence of counties that do not have multiple districts. They typically allow large towns to have separate local authorities from the less urbanised parts of their counties and provide a single authority for small counties where division into districts would be impractical. Unitary authorities do not cover all of England. Most were established during the 1990s, though further tranches were created in 2009 and 2019–20. Unitary authorities have the powers and functions that are elsewhere separately administered by councils of non-metropolitan counties and the non-metropolitan districts within them.

History

Background

A review in the 1990s was initiated to select non-metropolitan areas where new unitary authorities could be created.[3] The resulting structural changes were implemented between 1995 and 1998. Bristol, Herefordshire, the Isle of Wight and Rutland were established as counties of a single district; the district councils of Berkshire became unitary; the counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were broken up

Although the term was not applied to them, county boroughs between 1889 and 1974 were effectively unitary authorities, that is, single-tier administrative units. Before 1889, local government authorities had different powers and functions, but from medieval times some cities and towns had a high degree of autonomy as counties corporate. Some smaller settlements also enjoyed some degree of autonomy from regular administration as boroughs or liberties.

The Local Government Act 1972 created areas for local government where large towns and their rural hinterlands were administered together. The concept of unitary units was abandoned with a two-tier arrangement of county and district councils in all areas of England, except the Isles of Scilly where the small size and distance from the mainland made it impractical. In 1986 a broadly unitary system of local government was introduced in the six metropolitan counties and Greater London, where the upper-tier authorities were abolished and their functions were split between central government, the borough councils and joint boards.[2]

A review in the 1990s was initiated to select non-metropolitan areas where new unitary authorities could be created.[3] The resulting structural changes were implemented between 1995 and 1998. Bristol, Herefordshire, the Isle of Wight and Rutland were established as counties of a single district; the district councils of Berkshire became unitary; the counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were broken up to create several unitary authorities; and a number of districts were split off from their associated counties.[2] The changes caused the ceremonial counties to be defined separately, as they had been before 1974. The review caused 46 unitary authorities to be created.[2]

2009 changes