Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Administrative counties of England

The division into counties is one of the larger divisions of England. Counties are usually divided into several districts, each with its own separate administration (districts may be called Boroughs in some cases).

Some counties consist of only one district, and these are called unitary authorities.

Note: some traditionalists claim the term 'county' unadorned means the historic counties (which matched the administrative counties in about 1200). For the purposes of this article, and in every day usage (including that of the government), it does not.

Table of contents
1 List
2 Brief History
3 The future
4 See also


Shire counties

There are 34 counties that have separate county and district councils:

Unitary Authorities

These are counties with only one district and no county council.

See Subdivisions of England for the full list of unitary authorities.

Metropolitan Counties

The county councils of these were abolished in 1986 by the Thatcher government for largely political rather than practical resons, but they still exist legally. They are used for some administrative and geographic purposes, and are still ceremonial counties also. Most of the powers that they used to have have devolved to their metropolitan boroughs, which are now in effect unitary authorities, however some functions such as emergency services, civil defence, and public transport are still run jointly on a metropolitan county wide basis.

Greater London now has the Greater London Authority, but as a region not a metropolitan county.

Brief History

Administrative counties (though not under that name) were established in England in the late 13th century, and they were used for various local government purposes.

Amendations to this original set started almost at once with towns being made counties in their own right.

1888 : Establishment of Local Government

In 1888 the government, led by the Tory Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil decided to reaffirm the urban counties, calling them county boroughs and created lots more of them. Additionally it created a County of London, and split Sussex into East Sussex and West Sussex.

1965 : Greater London

Throughout the next century, debates took place about what should be done about local government in respect of the increasing urbanisation of the country. Proposals to expand or change county boroughs or to create larger urban counties were discussed, but nothing happened until 1965. Harold Wilson's government implemented a minor reform. The County of London was expanded and renamed Greater London, and consumed nearly all of Middlesex - the remaining part being ceded to Surrey. Some other minor changes took place, such as the non-viable areas of the Soke of Peterborough and Huntingdonshire being merged into Peterborough and Huntingdonshire.

1974 : Metropolitan counties

In 1974, a local government act was passed by Edward Heath's government to reform the counties, making them into two-tier systems of county and district. It abolished the county boroughs and mostly gave them back to their original counties. It created several new counties - the metropolitan ones, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Tyne and Wear - and others - Avon, Humberside and Cleveland, focused on the old county boroughs of Bristol, Kingston-upon-Hull, and Teesside.

The non-viable county of Rutland was merged into Leicestershire as a district. Herefordshire and Worcestershire were merged into Hereford and Worcester. The new county of Cumbria was formed from Westmorland, Cumberland and part of Lancashire. Other boundary adjustments took place, including the cession of Abingdon from Berkshire to Oxfordshire, and the annexation of Peterborough and Huntingdonshire by Cambridgeshire.

At this time the ceremonial counties were also reformed and matched to the administrative counties.

1986 : Break-up of Metropolises

In 1986 the county councils of the metropolitan counties were abolished by Margaret Thatcher's government following disputes with central government, but the counties themselves remained legally in existence.

1995 : Unitary Authorities

In the 1990s, under the John Major government the new counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were split up into districts which became unitary authorities (one-level counties). Rutland and Herefordshire were restored as unitary authorities. The same status was bestowed on many other districts — both those that used to be county boroughs (including Derby, Stoke-on-Trent), and those that had never had that status (including Milton Keynes). At the same time, Berkshire's county council was abolished and its districts given its functions, with each becoming a unitary authority.

2000 : London

The incoming Labour government under the leadership of Tony Blair had made it a campaign pledge to establish some form of local government for all London, whilst being keen to stress that it was not going to be a resurrection of the Greater London Council. The Greater London Authority has an elected Mayor and an Assembly with scrutinizing powers.

The future

The boundary committee is currently undertaking a review of what should happen - in Yorkshire and the Humber, North-East England and North West England - to the remaining two-tier counties (Cheshire, Cumbria, Durham, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, and Northumberland), if regional assemblies are introduced.

It published a draft recommendation in 2003, which suggests several possible options for each region. The options generally consist of one unitary authority for the entire county, and division into two of three. It is recommended that ceremonial counties be left untouched.

Suggestions include a South Cumbria and Lancaster unitary authority (possibly to be named Morecambe Bay), and if North Yorkshire is split, then Selby is expected to be annexed to the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Blackpool might expand. Any expansion of the metropolitan counties to cover more of their urban area is likely to be minimal.

These reforms will only be implemented in a region if the referendum to establish a regional assembly is positive, and the referendum will also allow voters to decide which of the recommendations they wish to see implemented.

There may also be another round of creation of unitary authorities in the rest of England at some point, which might include places like Oxford (formerly a county borough), and Huntingdonshire.

See also

External Link