Through the judicial arm of the government they run the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty's Courts Service including administration of the civil, criminal and family courts across England and Wales including control of the prison and probation services. They also have an important role in managing the country's constitutional affairs and our relationships within the EU, particularly concerning our Human rights.
Other roles of central government include advising local councils about provision of services and checking their performance. The government sets broad policies but a large part of the interpretation and implementation of those policies is down to the relative departments of local authorities. These are the principles which govern the relationship between central government and local authorities.
In April 2009 'unitary authority' was introduced to simplify the system of devolution across national local councils and eight regional assemblies were introduced. Unitary authorities combine the functions of county and district councils in 45 areas of England and Wales. Some examples of local government sub-divisions of counties are: regional, county, metropolitan, district, town, parish or community councils. Each respective council consists of its constituents, employees, advisors and a councillor. Councillors are elected to their position and, with the input of government advisors, act on their recommendations and set policies for their council.
The size and range of powers exercised by local councils have obvious implications. The larger a council, and the more extensive its powers, the greater scope it possesses to act as a meaningful alternative to central government; more-so when the local electorate opposes the party commanding a majority in the house of Commons. This is, however not to say that local authorities lack a significant degree of power in their constituencies, nor does central government deprive them of it. After all, it is widely recognise that the average voter votes not for a party on a national basis, but for an individual representative of a party in their local constituency. The Heath government of 1971 stated that:
"A vigorous local democracy means that authorities must be given real functions; with powers of decision and the ability to take action without being subjected to excessive regulation by central government through financial or other controls. Above all else, a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken, and should be seen to be taken, as locally as possible." Elected local authorities receive various grants from central government, such as income from trading operations, rent from council houses and the locally levied council tax paid by local businesses and householders. Council tax pays for a range of services from education to public services, i.e. the police, fire brigade, waste disposal and provides funding for advice, especially through the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Each local authority has extensive responsibilities in areas of housing provision and town planning. Another integral part of their duty is towards state-schooling and health and social services. Other duties include environmental health, the provision of sports and leisure facilities and expanding culture and tourism. A county council which provides such services throughout its area might contain within its boundaries several borough councils, each controlling such issues as housing and town planning also. Such councils could be town and parish councils who share with district councils the responsibility for, amongst other things, the provision and maintenance of bus shelters, public conveniences and the lighting of footpaths.
Although a local authority is a separate legal entity from central government it can make its own laws, albeit minor ones, through by-laws although its powers are derived from Acts of Parliament and if it goes beyond these then it breaks the law.
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