Local government

Local governments are administrative offices that are smaller than a state. The term is used to contrast with offices at nation-state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or (where appropriate) federal government. In modern nations, local governments usually have fewer powers than national governments do. They usually have some power to raise taxes, though these may be limited by central legislation. In some countries local government is partly or wholly funded by subventions from central government taxation. The question of Municipal Autonomy—which powers the local government has, or should have, and why—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 names for local government entities include state, province, region, department, county, prefecture, district, city, township, town, borough, parish, municipality, shire and village. However all these names are often used informally in countries where they do not describe a legal local government entity.

Main articles on each country will usually contain some information about local government, or links to an article with fuller information. The rest of this article gives information or links for countries where a relatively full description is available.


Local government is the 3rd tier of government in Australia, after Federal and State.


Canada has a federal system with three orders of government. The largest is the federal government, followed by the provincial and territorial governments. At the root level is the municipal (or local) government. Municipal governments are controlled by the provincial (or territorial) order of government.

The municipals of Canada are so helpful. They organize events for the town or township.


According to its constitution, France has 3 levels of local government :

However, intercommunalities are now a level of government between municipalities and departments.

Paris (both a commune and a département) and Corsica are local government sui generis.


As a federal country, Germany is divided into a number of states (Länder in German), which used to have wide powers, but whose main remaining power today (2004) is their ability to veto federal laws through their Bundesrat representation. The system of local government is described in the article on States of Germany.


In India, the local government is the third level of government apart from the state and central governments.

Isle of Man

Local government on the Isle of Man is based around the concept of ancient parishes. There are three types of local authorities: a borough corporation, town commissions, and parish commissions.


The Israeli Ministry of Interior recognizes four types of local government in Israel:

  • Cities - 71 single-level urban municipalities, usually with populations exceeding 20 000 residents.
  • Local councils - 141 single-level urban or rural municipalities, usually with populations between 2,000 and 20,000.
  • Regional Councils - 54 bi-level municipalities which govern multiple rural communities located in relative geographic vicinity. The number of residents in the individual communities usually does not exceed 2000. There are no clear limits to the population and land area size of Israeli regional councils.
  • Industrial councils - 2 single-level municipalities which govern large and complex industrial areas outside cities. The local industrial councils are Tefen in Upper Galilee (north of Karmiel) and Ramat Hovav in the Negev (south of Beer Sheva).


The Italian Constitution defines three levels of local government:

  • Regions: At present 5 of them (Valle d'Aosta, Friuli, Trentino, Sardinia and Sicily) have a special status and are given more power than the others. The constitutional reform of 2001 gave more power to regions.
  • Provinces: They mostly care to roads, forests, and education. They had more power in the past.
  • Communes: The Mayor and staff, caring for the needs of a single town or of a village and neighbouring minor towns or villages.

Major cities also have an extra tier of local government named Circoscrizione di Decentramento Comunale or, in some cities (e.g. Rome) Municipio.


Since the Meiji restoration, Japan has had a local government system based on prefectures. The national government oversees much of the country. Municipal governments consist from historical villages. Now merger and restoration of those municipal governments are undergoing for cost effective administration. In between are the 47 prefectures which are made up by area and population. They have two main responsibilities. One is mediation between national and municipal governments. The other is area wide administration.



Local government is the lowest level in the system of government in Malaysia - after federal and state. It has the power to collect taxes (in the form of assesment tax), to create laws and rules (in the form of by-laws) and to grant licenses and permits for any trade in its area of jurisdiction, in addition to providing basic amenities, collecting and managing waste and garbage as well as planning and developing the area under its jurisdiction.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has three tiers of government. There are two levels of local government in The Netherlands, the provinces and the municipalities. The water boards are also part of the local government.

The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces. They form the tier of administration between the central government and the municipalities. Each province is governed by a provincial council (Provinciale Staten). Its members are elected every four years. The day-to-day management of the province is in the hands of the provincial executive (Gedeputeerde Staten). Members of the executive are chosen by the provincial council from among its own members and like the members of the provincial council serve for a period of four years. Members elected to the executive have to give up their membership of the provincial council. The size of the executive varies from one province to another. In Flevoland, the smallest of the Dutch provinces, it has four members, while most other provinces have six or seven. Meetings of the provincial executive are chaired by the Queen's Commissioner. The Queen's Commissioner (Commissaris van de Koningin) is not elected by the residents of the province, but appointed by the Crown (the Queen and government ministers). The appointment is for six years and may be extended by a second term. The Queen's Commissioner can be dismissed only by the Crown. Queen's Commissioners play an important part in the appointment of municipal mayors. When a vacancy arises, the Queen's Commissioner first asks the municipal council for its views as to a successor, then writes to the Minister of the Interior recommending a candidate.

Municipalities form the lowest tier of government in the Netherlands, after the central government and the provinces. There are 458 of them (1 January 2006). The municipal council (gemeenteraad) is the highest authority in the municipality. Its members are elected every four years. The role of the municipal council is comparable to that of the board of an organisation or institution. Its main job is to decide the municipality's broad policies and to oversee their implementation. The day-to-day administration of the municipality is in the hands of the municipal executive (college van burgemeester en wethouders, abbreviated to B&W), made up of the mayor (Burgemeester) and the aldermen. The executive implements national legislation on matters such as social assistance, unemployment benefits and environmental management. It also bears primary responsibility for the financial affairs of the municipality and for its personnel policies. Aldermen (Wethouders) are appointed by the council. Councillors can be chosen to act as aldermen. In that case, they lose their seats on the council and their places are taken by other representatives of the same political parties. Non-councillors can also be appointed. Unlike councillors and aldermen, mayors are not elected (not even indirectly), but are appointed by the Crown. Mayors chair both the municipal council and the executive. They have a number of statutory powers and responsibilities of their own. They are responsible for maintaining public order and safety within the municipality and frequently manage the municipality's public relations. As Crown appointees, mayors also have some responsibility for overseeing the work of the municipality, its policies and relations with other government bodies. Although they are obliged to carry out the decisions of the municipal council and executive, they may recommend that the Minister of the Interior quash any decision that they believe to be contrary to the law or against the public interest. Mayors are invariably appointed for a period of six years and are normally re-appointed automatically for another term, provided the municipal council agrees. They can be dismissed only by the Crown and not by the municipal council.

Water boards are among the oldest government authorities in the Netherlands. They literally form the foundation of the whole Dutch system of local government; from time immemorial they have shouldered the responsibility for water management for the residents of their area. In polders this mainly involves regulating the water level. It has always been in the common interest to keep water out and polder residents have always had to work together. That is what led to the creation of water boards. The structure of the water boards varies, but they all have a general administrative body, an executive board and a chairperson. The general administrative body consists of people representing the various categories of stakeholders: landholders, leaseholders, owners of buildings, companies and, since recently, all the residents as well. Importance and financial contribution decide how many representatives each category may delegate. Certain stakeholders (e.g. environmental organisations) may be given the power to appoint members. The general administrative body elects the executive board from among its members. The government appoints the chairperson (Dijkgraaf) for a period of six years. The general administrative body is elected for a period of four years (as individuals, not party representatives). Unlike municipal council elections, voters do not usually have to go to a polling station but can vote by mail or even by telephone.

New Zealand

New Zealand has two tiers of authorities. The top tier comprises the regional councils. The second tier is the territorial authorities consisting of city councils, district councils and one island council. Four territorial authorities are unitary authorities, in that they also perform the functions of a regional council. This also covers territorial problems.


Norway's regional administration is organised in 19 counties (fylke), with 18 of them subdivided into 431 municipalities (kommune) per January 1, 2006. The municipal sector is a provider of vital services to the Norwegian public, accounting for about 20% of Norwegian GNP and 24% of total employment.


For a description of the arrangements in force, see the section on Regions and Provinces in the article on the Philippines. Institute of Development Management and Governance

Republic of Ireland


Sweden is divided into counties which in turn are divided into municipalities.

United Kingdom

The system of local government is different in each of the four countries of the United Kingdom.


The most complex system is in England, the result of numerous reforms and reorganisation over the centuries.

England is subdivided on different levels:

The top level of local government within England are the nine regions. Each region has a government office and assorted other institutions. Only the London region has a directly elected administration. Only one other regional referendum has been held to date to seek consent for the introduction direct elections elsewhere - in the northeast of England - and this was soundly rejected by the electorate.

The layers of government below the regions are mixed.

Historic counties still exist with adapted boundaries, although in the 1990s some of the districts within the counties became separate unitary authorities and a few counties have been disbanded completely. There are also metropolitan districts in some areas which are similar to unitary authorities. In Greater London there are 32 London boroughs which are a similar concept.

Counties are further divided into districts (also known as boroughs in some areas).

Districts are divided into wards for electoral purposes.

Districts may also contain parishes and town council areas with a small administration of their own.

Other area classifications are also in use, such as health service and Lord-Lieutenant areas.

See also:

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is divided into 26 districts. Local government in Northern Ireland does not carry out the same range of functions as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Northern Irish Department of the Environment has announced plans to decrease the number of councils to 11.


Wales has a uniform system of 22 unitary authorities, referred to as counties or county boroughs. There are also communities, equivalent to parishes.


Local government in Scotland is arranged on the lines of unitary authorities, with the nation divided into 32 council areas.

United States

Local government of the United States refers to the governments at the city, town, village, borough, or civil township level in the United States of America. In the more general sense, local government also refers to state government, regional government, and county government.

See also


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