Local government in Wales

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For local government purposes, Wales has since 1 April 1996 been divided into 22 single-tier principal areas.[1] The elected councils of these areas are responsible for the provision of all local government services, including education, social work, environmental protection, and most highways. Below these there are also (in most, but not all, parts of the principal areas) elected community councils to which responsibility for specific aspects of the application of local policy may be devolved.

The principal areas are variously styled as county, county borough, city or city and county, although this is a distinction not always respected in the media, including the BBC, which refers to all 22 areas simply as counties.[2][3]

The Queen appoints a Lord Lieutenant to represent her in each of the eight preserved counties of Wales, which are combinations of principal areas retained for ceremonial purposes.

Subdivisions of Wales created for such purposes as the provision of police and emergency services and the organization of the National Health Service are made up of combinations of principal areas. The Dyfed-Powys Police force, for example, operates in the area covered by the principal areas of Powys, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, and Carmarthenshire – the latter three constituting the preserved county of Dyfed.

In April 2013, it was announced that a major review was to be undertaken into local government organisation in Wales, with a Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery to be chaired by Sir Paul Williams. The Commission's report was published in January 2014, and recommended a reduction in the number of principal area councils to between 10 and 12.


There are six cities in total in Wales: in addition to the three principal areas with city status (Cardiff, Swansea and Newport), the communities of Bangor, St David's and St Asaph also have the status. City status is determined by letters patent.

St Asaph, as the seat of a bishopric, was historically referred to as a city, and was described as such in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. The status was never officially recognised, however. When city status was restored to St David's in 1994, St Asaph town council submitted a petition for the same purpose. The petition was refused as, unlike St David's, there was no evidence of any charter or letters patent in the past conferring the status. Applications for city status in competitions in 2000 and 2002 were unsuccessful.[4] However, city status was finally granted in 2012 when St Asaph won the accolade as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.[5]

Principal areas of Wales

There are 22 principal areas in Wales. They came into being on 1 April 1996 by virtue of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 (1994 c. 19). Eleven are named as counties, including the Cities and Counties of Cardiff and Swansea (marked *), and eleven are styled as county boroughs (marked †).[6] In 2002 Newport was granted city status, and the county borough is now styled as the "City of Newport".[7][8] Welsh language forms are given in parentheses, except where there is no English equivalent.

Locations of each council headquarters are indicated by yellow markers.

Neath Port Talbot Ceredigion Pembrokeshire Pembrokeshire Pembrokeshire Pembrokeshire Pembrokeshire Swansea Carmarthenshire Gwynedd Gwynedd Isle of Anglesey Isle of Anglesey Isle of Anglesey Wrexham County Borough Flintshire Denbighshire Conwy County Borough Powys Vale of Glamorgan Bridgend County Borough Rhondda Cynon Taf Cardiff Newport, Wales Torfaen Caerphilly County Borough Blaenau Gwent Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Monmouthshire Swansea Neath Port Talbot Vale of Glamorgan Bridgend County Borough Rhondda Cynon Taf Cardiff Newport, Wales Torfaen Caerphilly County Borough Blaenau Gwent Merthyr Tydfil County BoroughWales Administrative Map 2009.png
About this image
Areas are Counties, unless marked * (for Cities) or † (for County Boroughs). Welsh-language forms are given in parentheses, where they differ from the English.

Name changes

The current names of certain unitary authority areas are different from those specified in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. The following changes took place, all with effect from 2 April 1996:[9]


In common with councils throughout the rest of the UK, Welsh councils are run by elected councillors. However, because of political in-fighting and a history of poor performance, the executive functions of the Isle of Anglesey Council were temporarily taken over by commissioners appointed by the Welsh Assembly Government.[10] Elections planned for 2012 were delayed until 2013.[11]

Preserved counties of Wales

For ceremonial purposes of Lieutenancy and Shrievalty, Wales is divided into 8 preserved counties which are based on the counties created by the Local Government Act 1972 and used for local government and other purposes between 1974 and their abolition in 1996.

Historic counties of Wales

The historic counties of Wales are ancient subdivisions of Wales, used for various functions for several hundred years. The oldest date from 1138, with further counties created in 1282 and 1535. They were the main administrative subdivisions of Wales from 1889 until the implementation in 1974 of the Local Government Act 1972.


The lowest level of administrative subdivision in Wales are the communities, into which each principal area is subdivided. They may have elected community councils which perform a number of roles, such as providing local facilities, and representing their communities to larger local government bodies. Community councils are the equivalent of English parish councils. A community council may call itself a "town council" if it so wishes. The councils of three communities with city statusBangor, St Asaph, and St David's and the Cathedral Close – are known as "city councils". Communities which are too small to have a council may have a community meeting instead: an example of direct democracy.

Police and fire services

Police forces

There are four police forces in Wales. These are:

Wales Police Numbered.png
  1. North Wales Police (Heddlu Gogledd Cymru)
  2. Dyfed-Powys Police (Heddlu Dyfed-Powys)
  3. South Wales Police (Heddlu De Cymru)
  4. Gwent Police (Heddlu Gwent)

Fire and rescue services

There are three fire and rescue services in Wales. The present Welsh fire services date from 1996. Each covers a number of principal areas. These are:

Wales fire services numbered.png
  1. North Wales Fire and Rescue Service (Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub Gogledd Cymru)
  2. Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub Canolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru)
  3. South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub De Cymru)

Eurostat NUTS

In the Eurostat Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS), Wales is a level-1 NUTS region, coded "UKL", which is subdivided as follows:

NUTS 1 Code NUTS 2 Code NUTS 3 Code
Wales UKL West Wales and The Valleys UKL1 Isle of Anglesey UKL11
NUTS 3 regions of Wales map.svg Gwynedd UKL12
Conwy and Denbighshire UKL13
South West Wales (Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire) UKL14
Central Valleys (Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff) UKL15
Gwent Valleys (Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen) UKL16
Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot UKL17
Swansea UKL18
East Wales UKL2 Monmouthshire and Newport UKL21
Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan UKL22
Flintshire and Wrexham UKL23
Powys UKL24


Williams Commission

In April 2013, it was announced that a major review was to be undertaken into local government organisation in Wales, with a Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery being established, to be chaired by Sir Paul Williams. First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Since public sector budgets are likely to continue to tighten, and demand pressures grow, there is a clear need to examine how services can be sustained and standards of performance raised, so that people in Wales can continue to receive and influence the public services they need and value."[12]

The Commission reported on 20 January 2014. It recommended that the number of councils be reduced, through mergers rather than through boundary changes, from 22 to 10, 11 or 12; and suggested that the cost of merging the councils would be met through savings made within about two years.[13]

Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "This report addresses many issues that are critical at a time when the need for public services is outstripping the resources available to provide them. I have always been clear that the status quo is not an option. Change is inevitable and essential so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive." Janet Finch-Saunders AM, shadow minister for local government, said: "What matters to the vast majority of hardworking families is not the intricate structures of local government, but knowing that services will be delivered in an efficient and cost effective way.... We believe that public services are best delivered locally so taxpayers can hold local representatives to account for what happens in their community." Rhodri Glyn Thomas, for Plaid Cymru, commented: "The weight of evidence presented to the Williams Commission shows that if the people of Wales are going to get the services they need and deserve then there has to be a radical improvement in the way public services are delivered."[13]

See also

External links


  1. Local Government (Wales) Act 1994
  2. BBC Wales A listing of "each of the 22 Welsh counties". 23.12.05
  3. BBC Wales North West: Conwy County
  4. Beckett, J V (2005). City Status in the British isles, 1830 - 2002. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 133–135. ISBN 0-7546-5067-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Three towns win city status for Diamond Jubilee". BBC NEWS. 2012-04-18. Retrieved 2012-04-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, Schedule 1
  7. The London Gazette: no. 56573. p. 6160. 21 May 2002. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  8. "Newport City Council". Newport City Council. 4 December 2010. Retrieved 5 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. The Residuary Body for Wales (Levies) Regulations 1996
  10. Power taken from Anglesey council elected politicians
  11. Anglesey council election postponed for year to 2013
  12. Local councils in Wales could be cut after review, BBC News, 19 April 2013.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Williams Commission report calls for fewer councils, BBC News, 20 January 2014.